THE African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) has stated that current realities of the coronavirus pandemic reinforce the need for countries to reassess the organisation of not only the workplace but entire societies so as to provide more humane and safe conditions.

Comrade Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary, ITUC-Africa

A statement from ITUC-Africa’s headquarters in Lomé, Togo, to mark this year’s International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD) signed by Comrade Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, its General Secretary dated 27th April 2021, also noted that it has become imperative for countries, companies and enterprises to adopt disaster risk management strategies and plans to better prepare for future disasters and pandemics in the quest to reduce and ultimately prevent workplace accidents, injuries and deaths.

The organisation said it strongly supports ongoing negotiations to adopt Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) as a fundamental right at work at the level of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

It added that as a fundamental right, “it will mean a greater level of accountability for governments and stronger obligations on them to ensure employer compliance to safety and health across the supply and value chains. We identify the absence of enabling OHS legislation in most African countries as one of the contributing factors to the high incidence of workplace accidents and ill health.”

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This year’s IWMD which marks the 32nd anniversary since its inauguration on 28th April 1989 by the AFL-CIO in honour of hundreds of thousands of working people killed and injured on the job every year, is celebrated under the theme:  “Save Lives At Work” which, according to ITUC-Africa, “underscores the urgency for Governments, employers, workers as well as all relevant institutions and organizations to deepen efforts towards the reduction of preventable workplace accidents, injuries and deaths.”

Below is the full statement:

ITUC-Africa Statement on International Workers Memorial Day 2021 under the theme Save Lives At Work

This year would be nearly three decades since the commemoration of International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD). IWMD was inaugurated on 28th April 1989 by the AFL-CIO in honour of the hundreds of thousands of working people killed and injured on the job every year. IWMD has been commemorated every year since then.

While the commemoration of this date is primarily to mourn the dead, the day is also dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of health and safety at the workplace urging employers and workers alike to adopt safe working conditions of work.

Recent updates by the ILO show about 2.3 million workplace deaths happen annually across the world. Africa accounts for 240,000 of this number of deaths and this translates to an average of 670 deaths daily. Grave as these figures seem, they do not even include workplace accidents that occur within the informal economy since these often go undocumented.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the prevalence of unsafe workplaces and increased the number of fatalities at the workplace, raising the need for COVID-19 to be considered as a workplace disease. In many countries around the world, COVID-19 is further compounding the poor state of public healthcare as well as the absence of adequate social infrastructure and social protection provisions. The issue of inadequate personal protective equipment has also been a major problem during this pandemic. In Africa, this scenario has further been worsened by the poor state of organization of our societies and by extension, the workplace.

The reality of COVID-19 thus reinforces the need for countries to reassess the organization of not only the workplace to more humane and safe conditions but societies at large.

Even more important, it has become imperative for countries to adopt disaster risk management strategies and plans to better prepare for future disasters and pandemics. This also applies to companies and enterprises in the quest to reduce – and ultimately prevent – workplace accidents, injuries and deaths.

To address these issues, the ITUC-Africa strongly supports ongoing negotiations to adopt Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) as a fundamental right at work at the level of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

As a fundamental ILO right, it will mean a greater level of accountability for governments and stronger obligations on them to ensure employer compliance to safety and health across the supply and value chains. We identify the absence of enabling OHS legislation in most African countries as one of the contributing factors to the high incidence of workplace accidents and ill health.

The theme for this year’s commemoration of Save Lives At Work underscores the urgency for Governments, employers, workers as well as all relevant institutions and organizations to deepen efforts towards the reduction of preventable workplace accidents, injuries and deaths. To reach desired outcomes, it is imperative that a multi-level strategic approach be adopted.

At the Global level, we call on the tripartite body of the ILO to move to the adoption of Occupational Safety and Health as a fundamental right at work in line with the ILO Centenary Declaration which recognizes safety and health as a human right;

At the Regional level, we call on the African Union (AU) and all stakeholders to support existing efforts of OSH-Africa and other partners on the pursuance of a Regional protocol on Occupational Safety and Health.

At the national level, we call on Governments to accelerate the ratification, domestication and deepen implementation and enforcement of relevant OSH conventions in Africa, particularly the Ouagadougou convention.

At the enterprise level, we reiterate that safe workplaces are the prerogative of a happy and productive workforce. Providing and ensuring a safe workplace for workers is, therefore, a prerequisite for a productive and happy workplace.

We, therefore, call on companies to provide the following in line with the current threat of COVID-19:

  • Adequate and Quality PPEs for Workers at the Workplace
  • COVID-19 Safety Protocols Reinforced at all Workplaces
  • Consider and treat COVID-19 as a Workplace Disease
  • Compensation to be extended to affected COVID-19 victims at the Workplace
  • Review existing workplace OHS policies and programmes to facilitate early detection, management and prevention of workplace diseases. Where no such policy and programme exist, new ones should be developed.

Finally, on the occasion of this year’s IWMD, we commiserate with all families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty. We will continue to appreciate their services and sacrifices they contributed to building our commonwealth.

To victims of workplace accidents and injuries, who have survived fatalities on the job, we look to you as the real heroes and heroines of the past and present struggles. May your stories bear testimony to the need for enhanced safety at the workplace.

To all working men and women, we say continue to stay safe and healthy. Remain vigilant, always.

May our efforts towards improving safety at the workplace achieve the overall goal of saving lives at the workplaces.

Issue in Lomé on 27th April 2021
Kwasi Adu-Amankwah
General Secretary

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