International Workers' Memorial Day 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



“Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living,” is the slogan for April 28, 2008 International Workers' Memorial Day (WMD). This widely observed annual event provides the opportunity for trade unions and civil society to focus on the importance of occupational safety and health to the well-being of workers around the world. As asbestos is the most common cause of occupational illness and death, it will, once again, be regarded as a priority issue at many WMD events. In the run-up to WMD, a conference on Occupational and Environmental Cancer Prevention is being held in Stirling, Scotland (April 25). A presentation on the global ban asbestos campaign is on the plenary session agenda and discussions on the campaign, including news of the new Rotterdam Convention Alliance, will take place.1 In London, a short film Mesothelioma: The Human Face of an Asbestos Epidemic will be part of an evening event held at Congress House on April 28; throughout the country, there will be rallies, meetings, memorial services, wreath laying services, marches, tree planting ceremonies, seminars and lectures.2

Events being organized by scores of affiliates of The Building and Woodworkers International (BWI), a global labor federation, will feature asbestos as the focus of their activities. A Joint Statement by BWI Affiliated Construction Unions in the Asia-Pacific Region noted:

“Throughout the region construction workers are surrounded by toxic chemicals such as asbestos which is considered by many to be a silent killer. For many years, BWI affiliates have been active in the movement for a global ban on asbestos…In the Philippines, the movement for a ban on asbestos has been rejuvenated by the recent Senatorial Bill 741 authored by Senator Miriam Santiago calling for the 'Banning, Importation, Manufacture, Processing or Distribution in Commerce of asbestos-Containing Products' in the Philippines. The Association of Labour Unions (ALU), which has taken the lead to revitalize the ban asbestos campaign in the Philippines has begun to engage with the office of Senator Santiago and has also identified several possible members of the House of Representatives who may introduce similar bills in the Lower House.”3

In Pakistan the BWI's affiliate, the Federation of Building and Wood Workers, is organizing an asbestos awareness rally in the capital to launch a national ban asbestos campaign. Despite the political unrest in Nepal, the BWI's three affiliates continue their efforts to raise awareness of the occupational asbestos hazard. In Indonesia and throughout India asbestos will also be a focus of the day's activities.

Many BWI affiliates are writing to Canadian embassies or high commissions in their countries to protest at Canada's leadership of the global asbestos lobby. In one letter sent to the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi, Mr. Amjad Hassan, the General Secretary of DANUM, the Delhi Asangathit Nirman Mazdoor Union, appealed to the Government of Canada to:

“review its policy in promoting the usage of asbestos, especially in the developing countries. At least one death is reported every 5 minutes, and it will not be wrong to say that some jobs are effectively a death sentence. There is no safe and acceptable level of exposure. This is the preventable industrial health calamity of the modern era.”

Mr. Hassan requested a meeting with the High Commissioner on April 28th to “explain our position on this sensitive issue concerning health and safety of workers.”

April 20, 2008







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