Gerard Stilliard discusses the significance of Workers' Memorial Day
Gerard Stilliard is the head of personal injury strategy at Thompsons Solicitors. Gerard has over 20 years’ experience as a personal injury specialist. He uses that experience to work closely with trade unions and industry groups and to represent workers injured by employers who fail to provide adequate workplace protections.
Why is Workers’ Memorial Day important?
Around the world, Workers' Memorial Day is commemorated on April 28. It is an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell at work. Each year we “Remember the dead – Fight for the living.”
The Day provides an opportunity to highlight how preventable most workplace injuries and ill health really are, to promote campaigns such as our Focus on Safety At Work campaign and to emphasise the importance of union organisation in the fight for effective workplace health and safety.
How does Thompsons differ in reinforcing the importance of health, safety and equal rights for all workers in the UK compared to other legal firms?
Since 1921, Thompsons Solicitors has proudly campaigned, alongside trade unions, for improved health and safety in the workplace. Acting only for injured workers and never for employers or insurers, throughout our history the firm has won many of the key cases in health and safety and industrial injury law and played a central role in legislative change, for example in the creation of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Every year we act for thousands of workers injured by health and safety failures.
We actively and fearlessly represent workers and campaign for the best possible results for our clients in the workplace.
What are the implications of poor health and safety protections in the workplace?
Through our extensive work with victims of accidents at work and their families, we have seen the devastating consequences of inadequate workplace protections. We established the right to bring asbestos disease claims in 1972 and have been involved in every insurance challenge on the issue since then. Over the years, we have acted for tens of thousands of workers and their families exposed in industries such as plumbing, carpentry and construction. More recently, cases have emerged due to exposure at work for caretakers, teachers and those working on the railway.
Not every injury sustained is life changing or serious, but even minor injuries can be unpleasant for the individual and can be prevented if attention is given to basic health and safety standards by employers. Health and safety is not an unnecessary burden. We often see accidents which could have been easily avoided, had the employer taken the time out to put in the appropriate measures required.
Having a trade union health and safety representative within an organisation is an effective way to hold the employer to account. The safety rep is a visible advocate for employees and a clear sign that employers’ safety standards will be scrutinised.
It should be an easy decision for employers to take the right choices on health and safety: When one takes into account the costs of compensation and of an employee’s time off work in recovery, bosses should not need to think twice. Not only is it a legal requirement, it makes clear financial sense too. There can be no excuses.
So, as we approach Workers’ Memorial Day, we will continue to fight for all workers’ rights and seek to raise awareness of the importance of workplace safety.
What do you think the implications of Brexit could be for workers’ rights under this government?
The concern we have is that as Britain leaves the EU it leaves the protection of EU law. The real danger is that the hardline Brexiteers in the Tory party view Brexit as an opportunity to start a race to the bottom to shore up profits for UK industry, which could have an awful impact on health and safety at work.
We have already seen the direction the Tories and their erstwhile allies in the LibDems want to take when they took away civil liability for breaches of health and safety regulations in their Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (ERRA by name, error by nature) and in the current government’s proposals to take away legal representation in claims of lower financial value. It is clear that the right wing have, for instance, the Working Time Directive firmly in their sights. They don’t want bosses to have any limit on the maximum number of hours they can demand from a worker, no matter the impact on safety.
In the face of these dangers, Workers’ Memorial Day is a chance to remind everyone, first, of the struggle we have had over the last century to ensure our workplaces are vastly safer than they were in Victorian times and, second, of the need for constant vigilance.
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