‘The fight for health and safety never ends’

Unite members speak out in Liverpool

Reading time: 4 min

Unite members joined other trade unionists at an International Workers’ Memorial Day event in Liverpool on Sunday (April 28) to ‘honour the dead and fight for the living’.

They observed a minute of silence to pay tribute to all workers who have died or have  been injured in work in the UK and across the globe.

UniteLive spoke to Unite member Craig Byrne, a bus worker, whose father Derek Ashcroft died from mesothelioma, a cancer linked to workplace exposure to asbestos.

“My father was only 61 when he passed,” Craig told UniteLive, adding that he had worked for many years in shipbuilding and other industries where exposure to asbestos was the norm.

“He was an active man whose hobbies included boxing and golf – he was full of life,” he added. “It’s very frustrating and devastating knowing that his death could have been prevented had his workplaces been safer.”

Craig hailed International Workers’ Memorial Day events happening across the UK, saying that it was positive that “trade unionists and other groups were coming together to influence and change laws so that workers’ lives aren’t put at risk”.

Derek’s wife Marianne joined her son Craig (both pictured below) at the event. She told UniteLive through tears, “Derek’s death should never have happened – he was murdered as far as I’m concerned.”

Craig added that it was vital that all workers join trade unions, noting that being in the union means “you’ve got someone fighting your corner”.

Craig and Marianne joined Unite member Larry Bowles, a retired NHS maintenance worker, at the event.

Larry told UniteLive that he was eager to attend the Workers’ Memorial Day event because he’s been a “life-long trade unionist” since he was 17.

“For many years I was a workplace health and safety rep, too,” he added.

“The fight for workplace health and safety never ends,” Larry went on to say. “No matter where you are, all over the world, profits come before workers’ safety, so we’ve got to keep fighting.”

Larry emphasised the importance of international solidarity.

“My heart goes out in particular to workers like construction workers in other countries such as Saudi Arabia where migrant workers are dying at work in the thousands and their deaths are simply being recorded as natural – that they’ve died from heart attacks with no investigation or accountability.”

Larry also commented on this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day theme – the climate crisis and workers’ health.

“We’re up against big industrialists who want the money first and foremost – they want to drink the champagne until it runs dry, and they don’t care if the world ends,” he said.  

“But I put my faith in the young people of today,” Larry added. “I was at a demonstration recently that was mostly attended by young people – they’re so knowledgeable about all the issues. With climate change, I’m positive they can harness their energy and do something about it.”

The International Workers’ Memorial Day event was one of many happening across the region and the wider UK – stay tuned for more IWMD coverage on UniteLive. 

By Hajera Blagg

Pics by Mark Harvey