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Every year on April 28, throughout the world the trade union movement comes together to mark International Workers Memorial Day, remembering those who have died at work, or from work-related injury or disease, and resolving to continue to organise – even more effectively – to prevent more deaths, injuries and disease as a result of work.

On International Workers Memorial Day 2020, EFFAT joins with other European trade union federations, the ETUC, and trade unions across the globe in commemorating all those who have lost their lives to COVID-19, including the many brave essential workers, from healthcare to agriculture, who put their lives on the line at this moment to protect society. No one should die from work.

In Europe, the ILO estimates that nearly 200,000 workers are the victim of work-related mortality each year. According to Eurostat[1], in 2017 there were 3552 fatal accidents at work across the EU-28 – a figure made all the more saddening by the realisation that a huge number of workplace incidents go unreported.

EFFAT thinks especially of workers in its sectors still facing a daily choice between their health and their work: the thousands of seasonal agri-food workers being flown in to secure Europe’s food supplies with only questionable health and safety provisions in place – even in normal circumstances, millions of seasonal and migrant agricultural workers across Europe are subjected to deplorable working and housing conditions, the risks and inhumanities of which are only exacerbated at this time of health crisis; the many domestic workers still caring for our homes without adequate PPE; or the thousands of precarious food delivery riders with no protection still bringing meals to our doors.

Commenting on International Workers’ Memorial Day, EFFAT General Secretary Kristjan Bragason said:

“Every year millions of people[2] die as a result of their job. This is despite the obligations of governments and companies to protect workers from preventable sickness or accidents in the workplace. On International Workers’ Memorial Day, we in the global union trade movement commemorate these workers. This year, in particular our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, as well as to those battling the virus, either as patients or as doctors and other allied health professionals.

“The EFFAT sectors are some of the least safe in Europe; the number of fatal accidents in European agriculture is several times higher than the average. COVID-19 has clearly only added to these risks, with workers across many sectors still without access to adequate PPE. It’s clear that occupational health and safety laws must be properly implemented and, in light of the coronavirus crisis, even scaled up, with active trade union involvement.

“EFFAT also reminds decision makers at this time that, according to ILO Convention 155, the workplace is anywhere that a worker must go for reason of their work: as many countries begin to ease the lockdown, being able to commute safely to work will be a vital right.

“We have heard much about how ‘we are all in this together’, but this is misleading: the relationship between a person’s socioeconomic circumstances and their risk of catching the virus is clear.[3] That’s why, given that women make up the majority of essential workers – including in the domestic work sector – it is even more of a grotesque scandal that the European Commission has chosen to delay indefinitely action on pay transparency geared toward ensuring equal pay in Europe – a Treaty obligation and one of President von der Leyen’s pledges, let’s not forget. It is also important to acknowledge the prevailing, deep-rooted intersectional inequalities which place BAME people at proportionally higher risk.[4]

“COVID or no COVID, no one should die from work. As part of the global trade union movement, EFFAT aspires to a world in which no worker dies from work-related accident or illness – and for this we will never stop fighting.”

Further reading:
ETUC-ETUFs joint statement for IWMD 2020
Joint ETUC-ETUFs letter to Commissioner Schmit for IWMD 2020 on recognising COVID-19 as an occupational disease
Council of Global Unions Statement on Recognition of COVID-19 as an Occupational Disease


[1] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Accidents_at_work_statistics#Number_of_accidents
[2] https://www.ilo.org/moscow/areas-of-work/occupational-safety-and-health/WCMS_249278/lang–en/index.htm
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/29/low-paid-women-in-uk-at-high-risk-of-coronavirus-exposure
[4] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/critically-ill-covid-19-uk-patients-bme-backgrounds-200407143303604.html