A short time ago the International Workers Memorial Day commemoration in Melbourne, Victoria, concluded. The ceremony was less sombre than in previous years with, it seemed, fewer families and relatives of deceased workers. Certainly there was no speech from a family member, nothing from workplace safety advocates other than the three trade union speakers, Meredith Peace, Brian Boyd and Michael Borowick (all pictured right), however there were tears for some in the crowd and wreaths were laid prior to a minute silence.
The politics was reduced this year as there were no noisy protests from the back of a tray truck and no march on Parliament afterward, however politics is never far from the surface of this type of event. Michael Borowick, Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions was the more effective of today’s three speakers.
Borowick set the tone for his speech by acknowledging those in attendance who had lost a loved one in a work incident. He quickly moved on to quoting the recent proclamation by US President Barack Obama. Understandably Borowick focused on the mention of union organisation mentioned in Obama’s proclamation but the proclamation has a larger context and it is recommended reading, particularly in the light of upcoming statements from Australian politicians in relation to this international commemoration.
Borowick landed the best “punch” of the day when he spoke about occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation, saying
“This is not regulation, it is protection. Protection for people who are just going about earning a living for themselves and their families.”
Brian Boyd (pictured on the right, without microphone) was more accusatory in his words and certainly played to the majority union audience. Boyd spoke a lot about how the Australian Government’s attack on red tape is an attack on OHS with a focus on reducing the effectiveness of Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). Red tape was also the them of Boyd’s 2013 presentation.
Boyd stated that “red tape is code for OHS” and then rattled off examples of corporate corruption and questioned why there was such a focus on the activities of the former speaker of the Australian Parliament, Peter Slipper, over comparatively minor corruption. None of these issues related to OHS and notable omissions in his speech were the activities of former unionist Craig Thomson or the current Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance. The most surprising omission was any mention of the Royal Commission into Home Insulation which is directly related to OHS and the purpose of International Workers Memorial Day.