Workers’ Memorial Day, International Workers’ Memorial Day or International Commemoration Day (ICD) for Dead and Injured or Day of Mourning takes place annually around the world on April 28, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. Workers’ Memorial Day is an opportunity to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace incidents and ill health and to promote campaigns and union organisation in the fight for improvements in workplace safety. The slogan for the day is Remember the dead – Fight for the living. Although April 28 is used as the focal point for remembrance and a day of international solidarity, campaigning and other related activities continue throughout the year right around the world.
In 1970, the AFL-CIO declared April 28 “Workers’ Memorial Day” to honour the hundreds of thousands of working people killed and injured at work every year. Following the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by the U.S. Congress in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was formed in 1971. In 1984, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) did the same in Canada. The Canadian Labour Congress declared an annual day of remembrance in 1985 on April 28, which is the anniversary of a comprehensive Workers’ Compensation Act (refer to the entry Workplace Safety & Insurance Board), passed in 1914. In 1991, the Canadian parliament passed an Act respecting a National Day of Mourning for persons killed or injured in the workplace, making April 28 an official Workers’ Mourning Day.
Many Workers’ Memorial Day events have been organised in North America, and worldwide. Since 1989, trade unions in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa organised events on April 28. The late Hazards Campaigner Tommy Harte brought Workers’ Memorial Day to the UK in 1992 as a day to ‘Remember the Dead: Fight for the Living’. In the UK the campaign for Workers’ Memorial Day has been championed by the Hazards Campaign and taken up by trade unions, adopted by Scotland’s TUC in 1993, followed by the TUC in 1999 and the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive in 2000.
April 28 is recognised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as International Workers’ Memorial Day. In 1996 the ICFTU commemorated Workers’ Memorial Day and began to set annual ‘themes’. For 2006 the ICFTU theme was Union workplaces: safer workplaces, focusing on a global ban on asbestos and increased awareness of HIV/AIDS. During 2001 the ILO, part of the United Nations, recognised Workers’ Memorial Day and declared it World Day for Safety and Health at Work and in 2002 the ILO announced that April 28 should be an official day in the United Nations system.
Workers’ Memorial Day is recognised as a national day in many countries including: Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Gibraltar, Ireland, Luxembourg, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Taiwan, United States and the United Kingdom. Trade unions in other countries including Benin, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, Romania and Singapore seek government recognition for Workers Memorial Day.
Workers’ Memorial Day is now an international day of remembrance of workers killed in incidents at work, or by diseases caused by work, and annually on April 28, Workers’ Memorial Day events are held throughout the world. Some examples include active campaigning, and workplace awareness events. Public events include speeches, multi-faith religious services, laying wreaths, planting trees, unveiling monuments, balloon releases, raising public awareness of issues and laying out empty shoes to symbolise those who have died at work. World Day for Safety and Health at Work also takes place every 28 April to raise awareness of the consequences of work-related accidents and diseases; and to stress the importance of occupational safety and health (OSH) at work and provide support for the improvement of international working conditions and labour standards.