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What is Worker’s Memorial Day?

Worker's Memorial Day

Mother Jones

Each year, Workers’ Memorial Day, International Workers’ Memorial Day or International Commemoration Day (ICD) for the Dead and Injured (Day of Mourning) is observed around the world on April 28, a global day of remembrance and action for workers who have been killed, injured, disabled, or fallen ill because of their work. International events include direct campaigning and workplace safety awareness events. Public events include speeches, multi-faith religious services, the laying of wreaths and ringing of bells, planting trees, unveiling monuments, raising public awareness of worker risks, and laying out empty shoes to symbolize those who have died at work.

Workers’ Memorial Day is an important occasion to bring to light the preventable nature of most workplace accidents and illnesses, and to advance campaigns and union organization in the struggle for worker rights and improvements in workplace safety. The slogan for the day is Remember the dead – Fight for the living.

ORIGINS

Workers’ Memorial Day was first organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in 1984. The Canadian Labor Congress declared an annual day of remembrance on April 28, 1985, which falls on the anniversary of a comprehensive Workers Compensation Act in 1914 (see Workplace Safety & Insurance Board). In 1991, the Canadian Parliament passed an Act respecting a National Day of Mourning for those injured or killed in the workplace, thus establishing April 28 an official Workers’ Mourning Day.

INTERNATIONAL OBSERVANCE

For years, Worker’s Memorial Day events have been observed in the U.S. and Canada, and eventually worldwide. In the U.S., the day has been officially recognized since 1989. In that year, trade unions in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa publicized events and commemorations 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’.

Workers’ Memorial Day is observed as a national day in countries including: Argentina, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Luxembourg, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Taiwan, United States and the United Kingdom. Trade Unions in other countries including Benin, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, Romania and Singapore are currently pushing for government recognition.

Worldwide Deaths and Injuries

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), across the world:

  • Each year, more than two million women and men die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases
  • Workers suffer approximately 270 million accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of -related illnesses
  • Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives
  • One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide. 6,000 workers die every day. More people die at work than in fighting wars.
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