“I’ve been to 50 funerals” — the real life cost behind Workers’ Memorial Day

JOHN WALTIS will be just one of the many thousands of workers who will gather around the world today to remember comrades hurt or killed at work.

Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28, is specially poignant for John, a father-of-two, who has been to the funeral of more than 50 colleagues, many of them close friends.

“It’s not just the death of your workmate, it’s seeing how hard it hits their families and those left behind,” says the 63-year-old who has worked as a truck driver for more than 30 years.

This is just one of the real life stories behind the grim statistics — already this year there have been more than 40 workplace deaths.

International Workers’ Memorial Day, held every year since 1996, is a time to remember the dead and fight for the living says the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

ACTU President Ged Kearney is calling for a fundamental shift in the structure of how we work.

“We need to change the model and get rid of horrible phrases like ‘human capital’,” Ms Kearney told Working Life. “People deserve a safe workplace and decent treatment.”

And many studies show a happy workforce often means an increase — not a cut — in profits.

Commemorative events are being held across the country today to honour the memory of victims of occupational accidents and disease.

“It’s really tough going to a mate’s funeral, not once or twice but 53 times,” says John who will be taking part in the Sydney memorial day.

“But what’s even tougher is knowing many of those funerals might have been prevented if drivers weren’t under so much pressure.”

Like many transport workers and other road users, John (below), from Sydney is bitterly disappointed at the Turnbull government decision to abolish the tribunal that sets pay rates for truck drivers.

“We need to do what decades of evidence has said — lift the deadly economic pressures that companies like Coles place on transport drivers and the operators that engage them,” he says

“The Turnbull Government has blood on tis hands.”

John Waltis. Photo: supplied

The memorial day asks us all to take a moment to remember workers across all industries.

And in today’s environment many are facing greater pressure than ever to meet the demands of modern working life.

Stress is a hidden killer. Experts warn psychosocial risks such as increased competition, higher expectations on performance and longer working hours are contributing to the workplace becoming an ever more stressful environment.

John agrees: “The pressure can do a lot of bad things to you — you’re worried about not being able to feed your kids, or pay the mortgage. We all go to work wanting to make life better for our families.”

And with the pace of work dictated by instant communications and high levels of global competition, the lines separating work from life are becoming more and more difficult to identify.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Workers’ Memorial Day is a chance to prevent future work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses, and a day to remember those who have died.

Details for local workers’ memorial events are available on the ACTU website

Action you can take:

• stop for a minute of silence, to remember those who have lost their lives at work
• organise a morning or afternoon tea to talk about work health and safety
• attend a local workers’ memorial event
• arrange for a safety expert to speak at your workplace
• use #worldWHSday2016 when discussing World Day for Safety and Health at Work on social media.