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INTERNATIONAL WORKERS' MEMORIAL DAY 2006

28th April -- International Workers' Memorial Day

International Workers' Memorial Day (IWMD) is a day to remember those who have lost their lives at or by work. It is also intended to strengthen our resolve to reduce risks and protect people from injury in the workplace. Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that 2.2 million are killed, over 160 million become sick and over 1.2 million injured each year, due to poor workplace safety. Each year, 12,000 children are killed on the job and hazardous substances kill 340,000 workers annually, while asbestos alone claims about 100,000 lives [NOTE 1] . In Asia, the figures have risen in the past three years while in developed countries, the situation improves. These workers die or get hurt because an employer decided their safety just wasn't that important a priority. [NOTE 2]

28th April in Hong Kong

Every year some 60,000 occupational accidents happen in Hong Kong with more than 200deaths from occupational illness or accidents. However many people state that these figures are in fact much lower than the actual rate of accidents.

According to Chan Kam-hong, the chief executive of the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, government statistics are "only the tip of the iceberg". [NOTE 3] Many people are pressurized by their employers not to report accidents and injuries with the result that many go unreported. According to Chan many employers discourage their employees from reporting accidents because of the risk of increasing their insurance costs.

In one interview, a 48 year old cleaner reported that she lost her HK$7,400 per month cleaning job after she had twice injured her back and pressured her employer to report her injuries to the Labour Department. She stated that she injured her back twice due to using a faulty vacuum cleaner but there is an unspoken rule at her workplace that whoever reports the broken device must take responsibility for it and she was initially reluctant to report the faulty machine. As her pain increased however she told her team leader who asked her to take sick leave but not to report it to the Labour department (as required within 14 days by Hong Kong laws. She later approached her manager, who told her he would report it but when she checked at the labour department there was no record of the incident. After the second injury her employer decided not to renew her five-year contract.

According to statistics from the Labour Department the number of occupational injuries in all workplaces in 2004 was 44, 025. Some 17,533 industrial accidents were recorded in 2004. Fatal industrial accidents of all industries also decreased from 28 in 2003 to 24 in 2004, and for the construction industry alone, from 25 to 17 cases. The average number of industrial accidents over a 10-year period was 32,298.

In another interview in the Hong Kong media [NOTE 4] an injured air-conditioner installation employee reported that his employer had tried to convince him not to report his case after an accident caused him to suffer backpain. "The boss said that if I report the case, it will increase the construction [insurance] costs by at least HK$100, 000," he said. "I am nobody and job security is my primary concern, so at first I told myself I should keep quiet and not cause a fuss." But after one month of pain which affected his work he decided to report the case. "My boss knows I've reported it and now he and I are in a face-off. He hasn't called me for four months and he hasn't paid me," he said. He is now living off his savings.

According to the Standard, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority does not track how many industrial accidents it treats but instead it calculates figures according to the types of injuries and symptoms. Chan Kam-hong from ARIAV says that the government is just turning a blind eye to the issue by claiming to have no figures.

The Campaign for Recognition

Since 1996, local labour groups and trade unions, spearheaded by the Hong Kong Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade unions have participated in the International Memorial Day - rallies and victims' protests take place every year. Local artists have hosted an exhibition of their designs of the monument for the OSH victims. Labour groups have been pressuring the Hong Kong SAR government to recognize the International Memorial Day and improve work safety and the compensation & rehabilitation schemes for victims of industrial accidents and illness in Hong Kong.  However the Hong Kong SAR government continues to ignore the campaign, even after the SARS outbreak in 2003, when many of the workers involved (such as medical workers and cleaners) lost their lives at the workplace due to poor protection mechanisms.

As early as in 1960s, the colonial government built a stone monument by the locally famous High Land Reservoir, to pay tribute to builders who were killed during the construction of the reservoir. The current government however has refused to put up similar monuments. After years of campaigning, the government installed a small plaque for Occupational Safety and Health & Work Injuries, inside the Museum of Science, during a low profile ceremony. Many local groups feel that such a location, scale and setting of the monument is inadequate to commemorate the many dead and injured in Hong Kong.

This year, labour groups and trade unions continue to campaign for IWMD. On 23 April, they held a forum and photo exhibition in Mongkok, the busiest area in Hong Kong, to remind the public of the forthcoming Memorial Day. On 28 April, together with victims, they will march from Charter Garden to the Hong Kong SAR Government headquarters to hand in their statement.

Statement for International Workers' Memorial Day, 2006

We are a group of victims of industrial accidents and diseases. Because of poor and improper workplace settings, workers have been affected by occupational diseases or hurt by industrial accidents. The injuries are not only physical, they also break hearts and minds and the damage can last for a very long time, in many cases, permanently. For some of us, these diseases and accidents means not only losing our loved ones, but also losing the sole breadwinner in a family and living in trauma and poverty since then.

Statistics shown that some 60,000 of occupational accidents happen each year in Hong Kong, with more than 200 related fatalities. Employers put profitability as a priority and workers' safety seldom comes into their agenda. We are outraged that in many cases, law-breaking employers can easily settle the loss of their workers lives with a small amount of compensation and walk away from their legal responsibility with no other penalty.

Is a worker's life worth only a few thousand US dollars? What about a worker's dignity? Social justice? Are these empty slogans for children?

Facing permanent physical damage and an unknown future, we are angry! For our sisters and brothers who lost their lives in industrial accidents and for their shattered families, we must voice out our anger! Our society does not respect the contribution of OSH victims' and mistreats them in many ways. When victims claim compensation for their injuries, employers and insurance companies question them as if they were the criminals in a police investigation and an attempt to claim their well-deserved compensation often turns out to be like fighting a war. Widows and children are often described as greedy and unreasonable claimants when they try to get the funeral fees for their husbands and fathers.

Workers and their families contribute their health, family life and in some unfortunate cases, their lives to Hong Kong. Is this the payback? Can our society witness such an injustice and remain unmoved?

We, as victims and family members left behind, hope to push forward our demands through this statement, and a few words can cover our demands:

These are “Respect, Protection & Safety” and “Proper Respect and recognition of victims of occupational accidents/diseases”.

Our demands in detail:

  • Respect: The Hong Kong SAR Government should:
  • Recognize International Memorial Day.
  • Establish a monument for victims of occupational accidents & diseases in an open and popular public area.
  • Safeguard the rights of victims and their equal opportunities at different social levels.
    • Protection:The Hong Kong SAR Government should:
  • Establish a Central Employees’ Compensation System so that the rights of work victims and their families can be duly protected.
  • Set up a tribunal specifically for handling work-related injuries and occupational diseases, to reduce the workload and time required for a worker to go through the legal process.
  • Extend the scale of compensation for work-related diseases.
  • Re-examine the current compensation amounts and terms, the categories of work-related injuries and diseases covered, in order to develop a fairer compensation scheme for victims and their families.
  • Provide free legal aid to victims and their families, regardless their financial means.
  • Assist the recovery of injured workers with a better and more coherent compensation scheme with adequate rehabilitation treatment & facilities.
  • Secure the rights of re-employment for injured workers.
  • Ensure more rigorous prosecution and punishment of law-breaking employers.
    • Safety:The Hong Kong SAR Government should:
  • Increase the number of workplace inspection and introduce programmes for employees to participate in enhancing work safety, to ensure the relevant regulations are implemented.
  • Give clear and consistent penalties to employers who violate work safety rules and regulations.
  • Keep the public better informed by regularly releasing the statistics of work-related injuries and deaths and a list of law-breaking employers
  • Include occupational health and safety in the syllabus of secondary school education.
  • Protect all employees by drafting more adequate and updated OSH laws and ensuring their implementation.
  • We believe that these demands are basic and easy to fulfil. A positive and immediate respond    must be given, not only to us but also our sisters and brothers who sacrifice their lives and health for Hong Kong's prosperity. This campaign cannot end if these demands are not fulfilled.

     

    Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident victims (ARIAV)
    April 2006

    Supported and cosigned by:
    Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident victims (ARIAV)
    Asian Network for the Rights Of Occupational Accident Victims (ANROAV)
    The Hong Kong Liaison Office of ICFTU/GUF/HKCTU/HKTUC (IHLO)
    Globalization Monitor (GM)
    Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC)
    Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM)
    The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong (HKJP)

     

    IHLO
    27 April 2006

     

     NOTES

    NOTE 1: http://www.icftu.org/displaydocument.asp?Index=991221572&Language=EN
    NOTE 2: http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/index.cfm?mins=293&minors=293
    NOTE 3: The Hong Kong Standard 13 February 2006
    NOTE 4: The Hong Kong Standard 13 February 2006

     

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