Remember the dead and fight for the living



Today I was privileged to address the Edinburgh TUC international Workers Memorial Day event.   In a year with so many significant anniversaries my comments focused on the need to remember those who have died at work and learn lessons so that the lives of other workers can be saved in the future.  It’s also a chance for us to express solidarity with the relatives and families of those who survived and also to think about what we can do to campaign to make it work safer for everyone.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson laid a wreath on behalf of the City of Edinburgh Council and highlighted the fact that in addition to well-known accidents and safety failures there are also incidents where people die at work in other countries that we never hear about.  He also focused on the need for a strong safety culture in Scotland too and highlighted the legacy of asbestos which is still an issue for building workers.

It’s 30 years since the Bhopal tragedy where a chemical leak at the Union Carbide plant led to thousands of deaths and injuries in the plant and pollution in the surrounding area.  Thirty years on the environmental impact is still hitting communities in the area and there is a continuing struggle for financial support for survivors and for accountability for the incident.  Eurig Scandrett reported on the forthcoming Trade Union delegation to Bhopal to highlight the legacy of the leak.  He also spoke at the CPG alongside survivors in 2012.

It’s also coming up to the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza clothing factory blaze where over 1000 workers died and over 2000 were injured.   I commented that it was appropriate that we were commemorating International Workers Memorial Day just yards from major shops Princes Street as it would hopefully prompt people to read up on the fire and its aftermath.   There are still major retailers which have yet accept the need to support survivors and help compensate families whose loved ones were lost or injured in the blaze.  I’ve laid a motion in parliament to help draw attention to the plight of survivors Motion S4M-09759: Sarah Boyack, Lothian, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/04/2014 and to call for compensation for those affected.   Councillor Nick Gardner movingly quoted from Lucy Siegle’s Guardian article on the Fashion Revolution campaign which aims to highlight the cost of cheaply produced fashion products and the need for us all to be more questioning when we are shopping.

Closer to home I highlighted the 10 year anniversary since the Stockline explosion in Maryhill, Glasgow.  I welcomed the fact that my colleague Patricia Ferguson MSP will soon be presenting her proposed legislation to speed up the Fatal Accident Inquiry process.   It’s now nearly 5 years since firefighter Ewan Williamson, died while attending a fire in Dalry.  His family and colleagues are still waiting to find out what happened on that night and to see lessons learnt.

In the aftermath of the legionnaires outbreak in the South West of Edinburgh in the summer of 2012, four people died but there were many whose health has still not recovered.   We still don’t know the source of the outbreak and families and local communities are left waiting.  Justice has not come fast enough for them.

I believe we need stronger action on enforcement and we need a judicial system that responds more effectively to incidents such as these.   That’s why as a member of Labour’s Devolution Commission I supported the representations from trade unions to devolve enforcement of legislation on health and safety to the Scottish Parliament so that we get greater accountability and transparency in workplaces across Scotland.

The Procurement Bill is our chance in the Scottish Parliament to create a culture where health and safety concerns are taken seriously through action on blacklisting.

Finally, I thanked Edinburgh TUC and the Scottish Hazards campaign for their organisation of our annual memorial event in Edinburgh.   It provides a focus every year to remember those who lost their lives at work and to redouble our efforts to create safer workplaces across the globe.

There were also speeches from Alison Johnstone MSP who highlighted the issue of environmental impact of poor health and safety culture, Trade Union representatives who highlighted the issue of journalists who are killed as they bring news to us, of the safety of our oil and gas workers in Aberdeen and Des Loughney from Edinburgh TUC who focused on the scandal that hundreds of migrant workers have lost their lives in Qatar building facilities for the 2022 World Cup and that many more will die if standards are not enforced..