I had the honour of speaking again at this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day commemoration at the People’s Palace in Glasgow. Earlier the same week I had bumped in to that great and longstanding campaigner, Jim Swan at the STUC Annual Congress at Aviemore. Jim had pointed out to me that this year was the 25th Anniversary of International Workers’ Memorial Day being commemorated in Scotland.
He was also quick to remind me that it was his home town of Bathgate where one of the first commemoration events were held all those years ago. What he had forgotten was that I was at that first commemoration in Bathgate with my old man. I of course reminded him of that fact.
On the day, I therefore had cause to reflect on how much had changed over the last 25 years. The world is a very different place from 1992. Sadly, too many things are exactly the same. Far too many of our workers each year are injured and maimed because of industrial indifference to safety.
One death is one death too many. And the statistics show that far too many Scottish workers are killed each year at work in circumstances where the death could and should have been avoided.
I said on the day and I repeat here that I consider our workers to be more vulnerable and our workplaces have the potential to be more dangerous now not only than 25 years ago but for any time in at least the last 100 years. That is of course because of the Tories relentless legislative assault on health and safety and workers’ rights that goes against the natural order of things. For a century and more, changes in the law in relation to improving individuals’ rights and providing legal protection followed only one direction of travel – a steady growth in rights and improvements in protections. The Tories have turned that natural order on its head over the last 7 years with a raft of laws dismantling health and safety and workers’rights.
And now we face the great Repeal Bill.
It is ironic that in 1992 when the first International Workers Memorial Day commemorations were held in Scotland we saw a significant expansion in legal protection for workers with the first series of health and safety regulations under the European Directive in the form of the “Six Pack” regulations. Now, 25 years later, we see potentially the greatest destruction of legal protections in the form of the Great Repeal Bill.
And if polls are to be believed that is a Bill that will be taken forward by a party who have always shown themselves desperate to spoon down any lobbying lines they are fed by their big business and big insurer donors. A party who have built an entire legislative programme around the lie that is the compensation culture. A party who have decimated the funding of public bodies including the Health & Safety Executive. A party who have put workers’ rights in terms of health and safety back to Victorian times.
These are difficult, challenging and important times. On Workers’ Memorial Day we vowed to remember the dead and stand up for the living. That begins by doing everything in our power, through every political lever to ensure the Great Repeal Bill does not result in the great dismantling of workers’ rights.
The Brexit process is of course extremely complex and covers a huge variety of areas and interests. But particularly on Workers Memorial Day there is one thing that everyone can agree – somethings transcend constitutional issues. Some things are bigger and more important than party politics.
Somethings are black and white. It is simply a question of right and wrong. And ensuring, no guaranteeing, the lives of our workers in their workplaces is one of them.
We therefore vow to fight for the living and to put health and safety at the heart of all political activity.