EESC Workers' Group – statement on International Workers' Memorial Day (IWMD) 2020

Every IWMD is poignant as we take time to commemorate workers - some who were colleagues and the many 1000s that we never knew - who have died at work. This year, as the world struggles to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we mourn and pay special tribute to the 100s of healthcare and all other workers across the world who have died from exposure to coronavirus at work. We cannot let their deaths be in vain.

As well as the health and care workers who have continued to care for the sick and dying, we also remember other frontline essential workers such as rubbish collectors, cleaners, teaching staff, transport, retail, postal, couriers and delivery workers who have continued to work while most of us are confined to ensure our societies continue to function. Each one of them is a hero, to whom we collectively owe a huge debt.

The COVID-19 outbreak has clearly demonstrated the importance of protecting workers from diseases in the workplace. In many countries health and other key workers, many of them women, have found themselves without enough or adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Our tribute to our fallen colleagues must be to ensure that occupational health and safety, for all workers and particularly those in the frontline and all workers at risk, are again centre stage on the agenda of our leaders and politicians. No one should die from work and cost or administrative burdens, should never be an excuse for public or private employers' failing to protect the safety and health of workers.

We must also remember the many workers who are in precarious working conditions, often in low-paid and undervalued jobs and who are particularly vulnerable when it comes to health and safety and other workers' rights. Many are unable to take sick leave – either due to a lack of entitlement or because they cannot afford to. Too many workers have no option but to continue to work when ill, putting themselves and potentially others at risk.

As the European institutions and national governments begin to discuss COVID-19 'exit strategies' and relax confinement measures, we must ensure that every worker will be safe at work: not only from coronavirus but from all hazards and risks at work.

As we mourn departed colleagues and others lost due to COVID-19, we will continue to fight for safer and healthier workplaces for the living. We must insist that our public health care systems and other public services, weakened by years of austerity, receive the investment that they so desperately need. We must insist that greater attention is given to addressing violence, stress and other psychosocial risks in the workplace. Finally, in order to properly protect workers' safety and health, we must also insist on the involvement of trade unions by ensuring they have access to workplaces, and on strong and effective social dialogue and collective bargaining.

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EESC Workers' Group – statement on International Workers' Memorial Day (IWMD) 2020