Local trade unionists attended Waltham Forest Trades Council’s on-line Workers’ Memorial Day event on Wednesday. Also in attendance was John Cryer MP who spoke about the pandemic and the need for changes to the law so negligent company directors face prosecution.
John Cryer MP said: “Right from the beginning of the pandemic I had people who were trade unionists and non-trade unionists contacting me about the safety problems they were having at work. There were a lot of bus workers from all over London but who live in Leyton and Wanstead as well as people working on the underground.”
On broader health and safety issues John said: “I want to see changes to the Corporate Manslaughter Act which currently only allows for companies to be prosecuted and not individual directors. Company directors need to be held responsible.”
Several of the speakers expressed their shock at the awful covid news from India. During the event we remembered those who had died at work in Waltham Forest over the years (see below) and held a minutes silence in their memory.
A variety of union speakers gave their perspective on the pandemic during the event.
Kevin Parlsow, Unite and Waltham Forest Trades Council, said: “It has been a terrible year for the working class in particular who have been at the brunt of this pandemic. Today’s figures from the TUC suggest 15,000 working people have died people in Britain from covid and we think much of that has come from transmission in unsafe workplaces.”
Annabelle Stanford, Unison Waltham Forest, said: “Each covid death was a painful reminder of the failures of this government. They did not ensure the country was ahead when planning for any major events with adequate PPE and their refusal to recognise and take the advice of Sage when it became clear the virus was an airborne risk.”
Len Hockey, Unite Barts Health NHS Trust, commenting on our poor preparedness for any major pandemic said: “Before covid even hit, the NHS had an estimated 40,000 nursing vacancies with a total of 100,000 unfilled posts. A criminal legacy of neglect and wilful undermining of care systems by pro-austerity politicians over the years. We had shamefully the fewest intensive care beds per person and hospital beds overall per person of any country in Europe. Absolutely shameful.”
Katie Lindenberg, NEU Waltham Forest who have nearly 3,000 members in the borough, said: “The pandemic has highlighted the huge gaps in health and safety at work, whether this has been inadequate or non-existent PPE or employers not making workplaces covid secure or a culture of fear that exists in some workplaces that means that workers don’t feel able to challenge dangerous conditions. The pandemic has highlighted the huge gaps between rich and poor. We’ve heard of workers too afraid to self-isolate when they should due to fear of recriminations or because they simply can’t afford to not be at work and who knows how many lives this has cost?”
Jon Wharnsby, FBU, said: “In my industry we saw lack of PPE, lack of taking the problem serious at the beginning despite our efforts to make our employer aware of the problems we were facing, real problems with accurate reporting and recording and inadequate risk assessments. At one point we had 700 self-isolating firefighters which is 20% of our workforce and which resulted in 20 plus appliances off the run.”
Kate Byrne, RMT retired members said: “I would like to pay tribute to the unknown number of transport workers who have died in the line of duty and the dozens still hospitalised and struggling with long covid.”
Sam Mason, GMB, reminded us that climate change also needs our attention. Sam said: “Global governments will be meeting in Glasgow in November to discuss climate change at COP26. We are building a mobilisation across the trade union movement to get talking about the solutions we want as workers because the markets only care about profit they don’t care about workers.”