Today, April 28, 2021 is commemorated all over the world as the International Workers’ Memorial Day or the Workers’ Mourning Day. This day is celebrated in the memory of workers who had paid the supreme sacrifice in the course of their duties as workers or as activists fighting for the rights and interests of the working class. It also a day to remember workers who had lost some limb, suffered injury, got infected at work or enduredother forms of severe loss while in the workplace.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Save Lives at Work”. This is significant coming at the epoch of the global fight against the novel corona virus disease otherwise known as COVID-19. The contribution of frontline workers especially healthcare workers is a formidable buffer between deaths in thousands and deaths in millions. Every day, our healthcare workers courageously dare the stare of death in selfless service to rescue the lives of others.
On a day like this, we salute the uncommon love, faith, courage, and sacrifice by frontline workers who have given more than what the call of duty demands to give hope to humanity. We are eternally grateful healthcare workers, transport workers, utility employees, journalists and even workers in the informal sector who have continued to show up at their duty posts despite the threat of death, dearth of working tools and paucity of gratitude. We condole with the families of workers who have paid the supreme sacrifice in the fight against COVID-19 and those who have died due to work-related injuries or ailments.
In line with the theme of this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day – “SAVE LIVES AT WORK”, we wish to posit that today will not just be another to honour the memory of dead workers but also to make a very strong case for the welfare and protection of living workers. There is no better day to demonstrate our readiness to fight for the living than today. We will fight for the living by highlighting the preventable nature of most workplace incidents and ill health and to promote campaigns and union organization in the fight for improvements in occupational safety and health in our different workplaces.
The 2019 International Labour Organization (ILO) Centenary Declaration, which was adopted unanimously by governments, employers and unions, includes a pledge that all workers will have their safety and health protected at work. This right is also well pronounced in ILO Constitution which preambles provides as follows:
“Whereas universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice;
And whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required; as, for example, by the regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week, the regulation of the labour supply, the prevention of unemployment, the provision of an adequate living wage, the protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment, the protection of children, young persons and women, provision for old age and injury…”
In the third paragraph of the preamble of the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), it is clearly stated that:
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”.
Given the ravaging effect of COVID-19 pandemic, the consciousness of health as a fundamental human right has never been so globally appreciated as now. This validates the refrain “health is wealth”.
It is in light of this understanding that trade unions and international workers solidarity movement are now making a global push to lift the status of occupational health and safety to the highest level at the ILO. For the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), there is a strong push for the listing of COVID-19 as a notifiable and compensable occupational health hazards for workers infected with the virus.
There is also a very strong advocacy by trade unions all over the world for the International Labour Conference to adopt Occupational Health and Safety as a fundamental right at work. This would translate to stronger action and commitment by governments around the world to take responsibility and accountability on their duties to oblige compliance from employers both in the public and private sectors.
In view of the foregoing, the Nigeria Labour Congress wishes to make the following demands as Action Points in the push to “Save Lives at Work” not only in Nigeria but all over the worldof work:
- The listing of Occupational Health and Safety as a Fundamental Right at Work and the recognition of COVID-19 as a workplace disease and as a notifiable and compensable occupational hazard;
- The provision of training and capacity building for trade unions to deal with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) issues and push for reforms in the Factories Act particularly in relation to enforcement and penalties;
- Demand for compensation of COVID-19 victims in the Workplace;
- Adequate and Quality Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) for workers at the workplace;
- The payment of health hazards to health workers and other frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- Reinforcement of workplace observation of COVID-19 protocols.
While we expect actions on these demands, we assure workers of our commitment to protect your health and safety at work at all times.
Happy 2021 May Day in Advance!
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni
President, Nigeria Labour Congress