This is how we will win the fight to protect workers’ lives


Just a few days have passed since thirteen Nepalese sherpas lost their lives in what has been confirmed as the deadliest accident on Everest.

Three people are still missing.

That these deaths and the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy have both occurred just days before Workers’ Memorial Day on Monday 28 April is an unhappy coincidence.

But beyond the sadness felt by all of us in the trade union movement following the loss of our comrades, these accidents, once again, draw attention to the risks faced by workers in their daily jobs.

Of course, life has no price but protecting it does.

And if there is anything that the endless list of workplace accidents teaches us is that far too many employers and governments consider the cost of protecting workers’ lives and limbs an investment not worth making.

The 1,138 workers at Rana Plaza were considered unworthy of much-needed investment in building safety.

The two to five million agricultural workers poisoned annually by pesticides – of which 40,000 end up dead – are not worth increasing the substitution, regulation and control of hazardous chemicals.

The 107,000 workers who die each year as a consequence of asbestos exposure are not worth an earlier and faster global asbestos ban.

The unknown but ever-increasing number of workers who damage their mental health due to irresponsible management techniques are not worth investing in strong psychosocial health standards.

And the list goes on.

The good news is that this situation can be reversed – but it will require a massive effort by workers and trade unions.

First, we have to make an effort to show that we exist.

This is not a given. In many cases, workers are deprived of the right to form a union and “name the problem”.

The feeling of being just a replaceable cog in a machine when not “fully operational” leads thousands of workers to lose their health and lives.

Secondly, we need to make an effort to win the negotiation.

Convincing employers and ultimately law-makers to protect workers requires strength – a strength we need to build with numbers (more unionised workers), knowledge (increased union capacity and expertise) and mobilisation (occupational health and safety must be at the heart of our demands for systemic transformation).

And lastly, we must make the effort to ensure that the law is applied. With an average of one labour inspector for every 40,000 workers, how likely is it that you will even see one in your working life?

How high is the risk of punishment for employers who do not protect their workers?

This is why the trident of rights, regulation and enforcement is so crucial when we discuss workers health and safety. Because workers lives are worth protecting – every last one of them.


On 28 April 2014, trade unions around the world will commemorate workers who have lost their lives and health at work, as well as mobilising for stronger occupational safety and health standards under the theme of Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights.

For a detailed list of Workers’ Day Memorial events, please visit