International Workers’ Memorial Day: Remember the dead fight for the living!

This International Workers’ Memorial Day is unlike any other. Around the world, millions of essential workers are putting their lives on the line to save lives, keep our communities safe and our societies functioning.

Thousands of workers have already died – many as a result of the lack of adequate Personal Protective Equipment. In total, about 200,000 people have been killed by the disease, in just a few months. These include workers providing public transport, waste management, groceries and supplies, home care and education.

Considering the severity of COVID-19’s impact, the global trade union movement has demanded that COVID-19 be recognised as an occupational disease. The Council of Global Unions (CGU), which brings together 10 global trade union federations issued this call to governments and occupational safety and health bodies across the world.

“Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 must be recognised as a preventable occupational hazard, and work-related COVID-19 must be recognised and compensated as an occupational disease”.

This means that necessary infection prevention and control measures must be put in place by employers. Workers' representatives must be fully involved in ensuring this. And workers can choose not to work when they have cause to believe their safety and health are at risk from infection.


Nurse George Poe Williams watched colleagues die as Ebola decimated the Liberian health workforce. Now, he has a message for governments around the world facing the #CoronaVirus: #SafeWorkersSaveLive. Join PSI's Campaign now at

Safe Workers Save Lives

As unions mourn our departed members today and take the important step of campaigning for COVID-19 to be recognised as an occupational disease, we must not forget how we got to this saddening point. The world of work has become increasingly “nasty, short and brutish” for millions of workers over the last few decades. Precarious work has become the order of the day. Outsourcing, contract staffing, casualisation of labour, short-term and zero-hours contracts, all these have become mechanisms for circumventing any formal declaration of commitment to decent work, in practice.

The result has been soaring profits for the few rich and their corporations. But the working lives of people, and particularly women, have taken a severe battering. Disillusionment and despair, physical, mental and psychological ailments, work-related accidents and even occupational deaths have likewise soared, blackening the skies of workers' lives.

In 1999, the International Labour Organization estimated that there were just over 1 million work-related fatalities each year. Barely fifteen years later, this had risen almost threefold to 2.8 million deaths and 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries every year. The key lesson to draw from this is clear. When profit is put over and above the needs of working people, occupational deaths are likely to keep rising.

Safe Workers Save Lives

Check out our campaign to ensure Covid-19 response workers have quality protective equipment

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At the heart of our fighting for the living today, must be struggle for a new radical global economy. Trade unions, civil society organisations and all well-meaning people must be united in saying “never again” to the for-profit logic of neoliberalism which has led to millions of avoidable workers’ deaths these past decades and which left the world unprepared for the new coronavirus pandemic.

Big pharmaceutical companies are more interested in making profit than ensuring vaccine research and production that will help save lives. Despite evidence-based anticipation of the likelihood of severe pandemics, governments failed to stock personal protective equipment (PPE) because this was not immediately profitable. To avoid an even greater crisis in the near future, the world cannot continue along the neoliberal pathway. The struggle for a “People Over Profit” post-corona global compact must start now.

Health workers (and all other workers who continue to deliver services) do not want to be remembered as dead heroes to be mourned on 28 April 2021. They want to live their lives to the fullest, and they have families and loved ones who want them alive. Besides, we need safe workers to save lives.

Health workers are doing all that is humanly possible to fight COVID-19 and save lives across the world. But they remain vulnerable because the global shortage of PPE persists – an emergency in itself, within the global public health emergency. Thus, as we remember those whom we have lost to the cold clutches of death in the world of work, join our demand for governments to take all necessary steps to provide PPE for health workers. If you have not yet signed our petition calling for this, take a minute to do so.

Recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease