Unionists everywhere are commemorating the workers who have lost their lives in unnecessary workplace accidents.

On April 28, unions, workers and their families and friends, in over 100 countries will gather to remember the men, women and children who:


  • were killed or injured at work, or became sick from exposure to hazardous substances
  • were tortured, imprisoned, murdered or oppressed because of their trade union activities
  • suffered degradation, pollution or destruction of their communities due to unsustainable work practises


Every year since 1997, the Australian union movement has observed the International Day of Mourning on 28 April. Commemorative events are organised by the trades and labour councils in each state / territory. In 2001, Australia hosted the International Ceremony in Melbourne.

In Australia…


  • Every year around 440 workers are killed in work- related accidents (more than 8 per week). Diseases such as cancer and asbestos related illnesses cause at an estimated 2,300 additional deaths – perhaps more – a total of approximately 50 work-related deaths per week. (Road accidents claim about 30 lives per week)
  • According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost half a million people (477,800) experienced a work-related injury or illness during the twelve months ending September 2000. More than 15 serious injuries occur every hour. An important issue, which is often glossed over, is that many people are reluctant to report or claim compensation for their work-related injuries, because of fear of job loss or other reprisals.




  • There are at least 1.3 million worker deaths per year (3,300 per day). This is nearly double the number of deaths due to war
  • 12,000 of those killed are children
  • Over 160 million new injuries and work-related diseases are reported each year
  • International unions estimates that each year over 200 trade unionists are killed or ‘disappear’, 8,500 are arrested, 3,000 injured and almost 20,000 fired for trying to improve basic working conditions


The vast majority of work related deaths and injuries are preventable.

Making work healthy and safe

It is estimated that health and safety failures at work cost Australia at least $20 billion per year in lost production, treatment of injuries and illnesses and rehabilitation and compensation for those injured or made sick by their work. The ongoing personal and economic costs to those injured, made ill or bereaved is enormous.
Work-related deaths, injuries and illness are caused by poor working conditions and exposure to hazards at work.
A recent ACTU national survey of 1,275 health and safety reps found that:


  • The main health and safety issues are manual handling (eg, heavy lifting, repetitive work, awkward postures, movements etc); lack of resources and maintenance; poor ergonomics; difficult working hours, shift work and rosters; concerns about physical security and violence from clients, customers, etc; stress; inadequate staffing; and noise.
  • The main injuries or illnesses, reported by the health and safety reps, include sprains and strains, back injuries, cuts/abrasions, stress, viral infections, overuse injuries; and slips, trips and falls.


The National OHS Commission estimates that the vast majority of work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses are preventable.

The key to effective health and safety is removal of hazards and prevention in the workplace, but – despite their duty under the law to provide safe and healthy workplaces, many employers still don’t get it.

The ACTU survey of health and safety reps found that:


  • Less than half (49%) say their employer regularly carries out workplace health and safety inspections – over 11% say their employer never does.
  • Only half say that they or other workers are regularly included in health and safety inspections – 14% say they are never included. Only a third (36%) say their employer automatically consults them or other workers about changes which may affect health and safety, eg, new chemicals, machinery, work processes, or staffing – 15% say they are never consulted. This is despite a legal requirement in all states for employers to consult with workers about health and safety.
  • Almost one quarter (23%) say that required health and safety standards and regulations are not being met.
  • Almost one-quarter of the health and safety reps have not received any health and safety training, despite training being a basic legal requirement
  • Only around half (53%) the reps say they are provided with enough time to carry out health and safety activities – the majority spend less than five hours per week, with over half spending less than one hour per week on health and safety activities.
  • Over 30% say that sick or injured workers are pressured by management to return to work before they are ready
  • Around one-quarter (24%) of the health and safety reps say that they have been pressured by the employer/management not to raise health and safety issues.
  • Almost one in five (19%) say they have been bullied or intimidated by the employer/ management as a result of raising health and safety issues.


Improving public health through better health and safety

The theme for the 2002 International Day of Mourning is Improving Public Health through Stronger Health & Safety, with the following sub-themes: “Safety Tackling HIV/AIDS Through Work-place Actions For Public Health”, and improving “Workplace Monitoring and Inspection Systems”.

In addition to prevention in the workplace and enforcement of health and safety laws by governments, we need to enhance the role of the health system in improving occupational health and safety. Many people visiting their GP are there for problems related to work, but GPs may be unaware of this and seldom ask.
We need better training for all medical professionals in occupational health and safety and better reporting / recording of work-related injury and illness from GPs, other medical professionals and hospitals.

International Day of Mourning in Australia

In 2001, the ACTU launched the national campaign – Reactivate Health and Safety at work, which called on workers and health and safety reps to:


  • Inspect workplaces often
  • Involve all workers
  • Stop dangerous work
  • Refuse unhealthy conditions
  • USE a PIN / written notice
  • Make employers responsible, and [if there isn’t one] to
  • Elect a health and safety rep.


These actions are complementary to the international theme of improving “Workplace Monitoring and Inspection Systems”. On this International Day of Mourning, union action will focus around the themes of the Reactivate Health and Safety Campaign, including pressuring governments for better inspection and enforcement, and tougher penalties for employers who are negligent and/or have poor health and safety records.

Information on commemorative events around Australia:
Australian Capital Territory

ACT will be holding a ceremony on Monday the 29 April, commencing at 9.00am. Guest speaker will be Dr Peter Collignon- Director of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the Canberra Hospital. The Canberra Union Voices will be singing – including a song composed specially for the day.
Contact ACT Trades and Labor Council Phone (02) 6247 7844 Fax (02) 6247 2349 E-mail acttlc@atrax.net.au


Remember the Dead – Fight for the Living. International Day of Mourning – 28 April 2002 Sunday, 28 April 2002, 10am, Alexander Smith Place (outside TLC building), Guest speakers – QCU General Secretary, Grace Grace and Minister for Industrial Relations, Gordon Nuttall.

In Queensland…

In the 2000/2001 financial year, there were 85,340 workers compensation claims.


  • 78 of these were for fatal injuries (not including disease fatalities.)


What you can do:


  • place crosses or release black balloons for all those killed by work
  • hold a morning tea and have a minute silence
  • talk about health and safety at your workplace
  • conduct an workplace health and safety audit
  • wear yellow and black ribbons



New South Wales

Contact the Labor Council of New South Wales Phone (02) 9264 1691 Fax (02) 9261 3505 E-mail mailbox@labor.org.au

South Australia

Monday 29 April 2002 12.30 pm Pennington Gardens, King William Road (western side). Contact : Jack Cook (United Trades & Labor Council) (08) 8212 6562 for further details


Contact Unions Tasmania Phone (03) 6234 9553 Fax (03) 6234 9505 E-mail ttlc@ttlc.org.au


International Day of Mourning – Esso Protest
10:00am 29 April 2002 Esso Head Office, Southbank
To mark International Day of Mourning – and draw attention to the Industrial Manslaughter Bill – unions will hold a protest outside Esso Head Office in memory of workers killed in the Longford disaster.
Contact Margot Hoyte 9662 3511. You can download a flyer promoting protest.

Western Australia

International Day of Mourning 28 April 2002
International day of recognition for workers who have lost their lives during the course of work.

The campaign is coordinated by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Geneva. The event will be celebrated at Solidarity Park in West Perth, the site of the “Third Wave” campaign. Further details will be posted as they come to hand.
Contact Bob Bryant Phone:(08) 93287877 Mobile: 0417 909 508 Fax: (08) 93288132 Email: unionsyes@tlcwa.org.au