International Workers' Memorial Day

London began International Workers Memorial Day #IWMD14 with a protest outside the Qatar Embassy.  UCATT General Secretary Steve Murphy & Gail Cartmail Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union, handed in a letter demanding workers' rights.  The letter is also a protest against the deaths and injuries that have sadly occurred on Qatar building sites, as the small nation prepares for the World Cup.  During the rally that followed at the Building Worker Statue, Steve Murphy described his recent visit to Qatar where more than 600 migrant construction workers have died in the last year:  Those who remain, live in abject poverty whilst working in the richest nation on earth.

The two million migrant construction workers in Qatar work under the 'kafala system' which Steve Murphy described as slavery.  Workers' passports are confiscated leaving them unable to leave the country without their employer's permission.  Many arrive in debt having taken out high interest loans to cover the thousand pound fee needed to be allowed to work in Qatar, despite these jobs paying as little as 60p per hour.  UCATT's message is clear: "FIFA must not allow the World Cup to be played in blood stained stadiums."
Gail Cartmail has witnessed first hand the appalling conditions construction workers in Qatar are forced to live in and drew the following poignant comparison: "More workers will be killed in the construction for the World Cup in Qatar than players will play on the pitch."  
The International Trade Union Confederation estimate that 4,000 will perish in Qatar before a single ball has been kicked. The migrant workers involved are banned from organising in trade unions, which affects all working conditions and as Gail Cartmail reminded the crowd, "you are less likely to be killed in a unionised workplace".
Unite the Union have heard from UK workers who are afraid to join trade unions because they fear being sacked and even blacklisted.  In conclusion, Gail Cartmail said of #IWMD14: "Today we remember the dead and we also pledge to fight for the living worldwide because globally an injury to one is an injury to all".
Tony O'Brian, Secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign (CSC) read out the names of each of the four building workers who have lost their lives on London sites in the last six months.  CSC organised vigils at each of these sites and Tony O'Brian encouraged all present to continue the important work to highlight deaths in the construction industry.  The Observer recently reported on workers being afraid to raise health and safety concerns, a fact that CSC have been aware of for years.  Unjust practices such as blacklisting contribute to this climate of fear.  Tony O'Brian sent congratulations to the electricians who have taken a stand in the fight against bogus self employment and urged everyone to play a part in the #Fight4PAYE.
CSC remains mindful of international events, in particular last week's anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster where 1,000 workers were killed:  To date only one third of the promised compensation has been paid.  Given the majority of companies invested in Rana Plaza were British, it is for workers in this country to call for businesses to pay up.
The London Hazards Centre (LHC) organised today's vigil and rally with CSC and expressed their pride at having been able to do so, particularly following funding difficulties last year.  LHC made an appeal for trade union branches to affiliate to enable the organisation to continue it's vital work.  #IWMD14 has been a truly international event and Paul Street of LHC was keen to continue to show support for workers globally.  In their view the four recent deaths on London sites demonstrate "we can't rely on companies alone to manage health and safety".  David Cameron was accused of "creating a reckless culture within construction".  LHC also looked to the future and noted that whilst it is sad to remember those who have died, this event "inspires us to go forward and step up our fight for health, safety and trade union rights in the workplace".
UCATT London and South East Regional Secretary Jerry Swain delivered a powerful conclusion to the speeches urging a redoubling of efforts to ensure every worker in this country has the right to go to work safely and return home safely:  "If anyone ever doubted the need to organise to improve health and safety on our construction sites, take a look at the hard hats; one for each of the construction workers killed in the UK over the last twelve months."  This matched the number of balloons released by apprentices working in the industry.
Voices from the crowd included recently appointed UCATT health and safety rep John Browne, who works on the American Embassy site and said "not enough is being done to protect health and safety at work - we're not in the Victorian era any more, we're a modern workforce and we expect better."  Fellow UCATT member Declan Murphy, working for PJ Carey agreed, "as work is picking up, health and safety standards are slipping".

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