We are gathering to ‘remember the dead and fight for the living’, RMT leader Pat Sikorski said at the rally at City Hall on International Workers Memorial Day, an event marked all over the world.
The 100 strong, rally of trade unionists and bereaved families campaign groups rallied first outside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) headquarters in South London and heard civil servants’ union leader Marc Serwotka protest government plans to move HSE to Liverpool, thus losing almost 250 experienced and expert staff.
Trade union banners on the march from HSE to City Hall included GMB, NASUWT, Lambeth Unison Black Workers Group, Camden Teachers, UNISON Greater London, and CWU South Central No. 1 Branch.
At City Hall speakers remembered the men and women killed due to ‘the bosses’ disregard for Health and Safety at work. They called for new laws to prosecute corporate directors and an increase in the number of Health and Safety (H&S) inspections.
RMT Assistant General Secretary Pat Sikorski said: ‘On July 20th, 1988 there was an offshore disaster on Piper Alpha. 167 workers were killed.
‘We are campaigning for safety offshore because the boss class in the oil industry have not learned the lesson.
‘With all of these disasters the core issue is profit before safety. The Labour government have failed to support its supporters and make it possible to prosecute these people.
‘It is a terrible irony that after Northern Rock it should be possible to prosecute bankers individually for fraud; but when it is the death of workers, bosses are still protected and we are not able to prosecute’.
Sikorski continued: ‘All unions on the London underground want greater protection. The staffing levels on sub-surface tubes need to be kept at the numbers essential to evacuate people in the event of another King’s Cross disaster.
‘The trade unions will be taking action to defend agreements and the Government’s attempt to water down Section 2 will be defeated. When we shut down against the attacks on the number of maintenance workers, we got solidarity from drivers and ground staff.
Sikorski added: ‘We want a ten-point charter to protect public sector workers against attackers. People are getting so fed up with the Byzantine ticketing system and trains running late. Attacks are increasing.
‘We want no tolerance of violence to workers and prosecution by management. The man running away in a suit after a cowardly attack on women workers is much more difficult to arrest. The Metropolitan police actually arrest our members rather than the perpetrators. ‘
‘The bosses only aim is for profit. We have to rely on our strength of action because that is the only way that we can defend the workplace,’ Sikorski concluded.
Judith Brandreth from the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group, formed after the collapse of a crane in Battersea in 2006. said: ‘A crane collapsed killing the crane driver and a local man mending his car in the street.
‘We set up this campaign to end crane deaths and gain justice for the men who died, Michael Alexa and Jonathan Cloke.
‘There are too few Health and Safety (HS) inspectors, only 14 to 15 for the whole of London. Crane companies and construction companies should put people’s lives before their profits.
‘Recently two more workers were killed in Battersea and Westminster when scaffolding collapsed,’ she said.
Lillian Alexa, Michael’s mother said: ‘I lost my son when the crane collapsed in Battersea on September 26 2006. My son didn’t work in construction. He was outside the family garage when the crane collapsed on top of him.
Her son’s body was trapped under the rubble for five days. Wandsworth Council had closed down a school to build luxury homes.
The bereaved mother told News Line: ‘Barratt and Falcon didn’t take any responsibility for what happened. My solicitors are still waiting for a report.’
The Crane Disaster Action group want full and immediate crane inspections and the Code of Practice to become law. A permanent memorial has been erected to the workers who died.
Mike Hutin father of Andrew Hutin, who was killed when the No. 5 Furnace exploded on November 8th 2001 at the multi- national Corus Port Talbot plant spoke of the terrible trauma his family has suffered since his son’s death.
He said: ‘Since the No. 5 furnace explosion our family has gone through a living hell. We have lived that day every day since and the horror and injustice cannot be put into words.
‘Steel is in our blood. I worked in steel and so did my father. But our blood is now in steel, produced in Port Talbot.
‘Andrew was not due to be on shift that day. But he was told that if he did not take the duty he would face disciplinary action. Only 24 hours earlier there had been problems. He was expected to go in when others more experienced were not.
‘Twelve of the injured guys were taken straight to intensive are, but our son was not. We were told to wait in the Community Centre and couldn’t go to the hospital. We had to wait 24 hours before they found Andrew’s body and were able to recover it.
‘We were told Andrew was lucky because he was not suffering like the others in intensive care.
Speaking on behalf of Families Against Corporate Killers, Hutin continued: ‘It took four years to have a Coroner’s inquest that lasted 6 weeks.
‘You have to sit and listen to people who you think are telling lies.
‘Why not strengthen the laws and punish those who do wrong. I used to believe in the law, but my son died unlawfully.
‘No person was disciplined or sacked. They are still in work.
‘The people responsible for the decision on that day are still working and making Health and Safety decisions. One director was promoted on merit.
‘Who are being punished? Who has lost? The only way we can move forward is if we get to the bottom of things and insure greater safety.
‘We are not certain we can stop another explosion.
‘Directors’ duties must be put on the Corporate Killing Bill just introduced. If directors make a decision as to when money is spent and they don’t spend it on Health and Safety, they should be penalised. The Act we have falls far short and needs changes to strengthen it to make corporate directors responsible.’
Mrs Jones, mother of Simon, on the 10th anniversary of her son’s horrific death said her 24-year-old son was taking a year out to work before completing his degree at Sussex University.
She alleged that Personnel Selection, the temp agency, and Urinim Ltd, the construction company where her son was sent, were chaotic organisations who did not supply enough workers, use correct equipment, provide supervision or train their workers.
She continued: ‘My son was killed by what was called a crane. But it was an excavator with a three tonne clam-shell grab which can close silently in seconds. That attachment was being used instead as a crane for unloading ships which endangered the stevedores below.’
‘There was no universal system of hand signals.
‘The grab had only two feet of clearance over the men’s heads. When the driver’s coat got caught on the joy stick it closed on Simon’s head crushing it and decapitating him.’
She alleged: ‘They even carried on unloading the ship despite the accident.
‘We were treated with total callousness by the police and the coroners office and made to wait four days before we could go and see our son. A post-mortem wasn’t even needed as the cause of death was well established.
‘But Simon’s friends made people start to sit up. They invaded Urinim several times, occupied the cranes, hung banners out saying ‘Murderers’ and locked themselves onto the gates. Before they left they also made sure that all the workers were paid despite the disruption
‘They went to the agency and closed it down. They found the client list and faxed all of them with the details of negligent practices before they left.
‘That was the start of the Simon Jones Memorial campaign she said to applause.
‘We carried on with direct action. If you want to speak to the Director General of HSE then the thing to do is block Southwark Bridge.
‘After three years we got the company in court. But the defence got the judge to refuse to allow the prosecution to use the word dangerous or danger, but every second sentence the defence used the word ‘accident’.
‘Investigating corporate managers is one of the most difficult to get a conviction at. The law needs to be changed to make directors personally responsible,’ Mrs. Jones said.
Brian Henderson from Prospect the union representing Health and Safety staff said: ‘We give our support for International Workers Memorial Day, happening throughout the world.
‘We have to remember the 170 journalists who have been killed reporting the wars and atrocities carried out by governments. And we must remember the mattress factory workers who died in Morocco last Friday, because a locked exit was protecting against theft rather than protecting safety for workers.
He said: ‘HSC is constrained by under funding. We have to engineer change in this country on HSE resources and fight for the trade unions to implement these. Where trade unions have health and safety representatives, accidents at work are considerably reduced.