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25 April 2017

World Day for Safety and Health at Work: discrimination is bad for your health

On Friday 28 April, the international trade union movement will be holding its annual Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers. This year, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) will denounce the impact of discrimination on workers’ health and safety.

Under the banner ‘Unsafe and unfair – discrimination on the job hurts us all’, the ITUC is urging unions to organise activities aimed at raising awareness of the ‘measures needed to protect the health and safety of the most vulnerable in our workplaces, due among other things to gender, origins, class and/or sexual orientation.’

The ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow has outlined the role to be played by workers’ organisations in tackling discrimination in the workplace.

‘Maintaining a system of indecent work has always required an extra ingredient – a divided workforce. Where workers do not have a collective voice and where jobs are by design segregated by gender, race or class, those divisions can perpetuate disadvantage and leave the most exploited workers powerless while undercutting the conditions of the rest,’ observed the ITUC in a statement.

For its part, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has also delivered for the 28th April celebrations a message focused on the risks encountered by some specific categories of workers.

“Workers in precarious jobs, in small and medium sized enterprises, young workers, migrant workers and domestic workers are more at risk than permanent employees in larger workplaces. This is partly due to less training, information, and representation by safety reps for such workers, and in smaller companies”, points out the ETUC in a press release.

“Everyone’s health and safety matters” said Esther Lynch, the ETUC Confederal Secretary in charge of occupational health and safety issues. “Every worker has the right to a safe and healthy work environment, no one should have to choose between their job and their health.”

In the United Kingdom, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has recently carried out a poll among over 1 000 black, Asian and minority ethnic working adults. Participants were asked to answer questions in relation to racist attacks they had encountered since the EU referendum, held in June 2016. The results show that over a third of participants had witnessed or experienced racial abuse in the seven months following the Brexit vote, while 19% had suffered or witnessed a racial assault. The TUC also found that 38% had seen racist material online and 27% had come across racist graffiti, posters or leaflets. The poll is part of a major TUC project to combat racism in the workplace and to boost the trade union movement’s efforts in support of victims of racism.

In Spain, the two main trade union confederations UGT and CCOO released a joint statement in which they denounced the link between the economic crisis and the spreading of xenophobia across Europe: ‘Since the outbreak of the economic crisis, we have witnessed in Europe a plethora of measures aimed at limiting rights that, together with developments such as the electoral rise of the Ultra-Right and the success of the Brexit campaign, constitutes a fertile ground for xenophobic, racist and macho statements that divide the working class according to nationality, creed, gender, age or sexual orientation.’

In the US, the 28 April commemoration will be overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump as US President and its consequences on workers’ rights. ‘The Trump administration has launched an all-out assault on regulations. The President has ordered that, for every new protection, two existing safeguards must be removed from the books. At the same time, Republicans in Congress have moved quickly to overturn new rules issued by the Obama administration. Agency budgets and enforcement programs are on the chopping block. The safety and health of workers and the public are in danger,’ states the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States, on its website.


To find out more about activities organised in other countries

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