When anyone dies, it is important to remember them and their relatives as well as those we did not know personally but who also grieve. Public recognition of deceased workers is a recent phenomenon, even though we have commemorated and noted industrial disasters for over a century. Memorials have always provided a symbolic focus for our attention and grief with the hope that these memorials motivate people to reduce the chances of a workplace death occurring to others.
But worker memorials need to be carefully considered and designed to be inclusive as Death visits all workplaces regardless of the religion of the workers, their ethnicity, the location of the fatality or the workplace conditions. On the eve of International Workers’ Memorial Day for 2017, it may be time to rethink the memorial to deceased workers in Melbourne, Victoria.
Several weeks ago a long-lost warship, the HMAS Sydney, was discovered off the coast of Western Australia. The Sydney disappeared with over 600 crew. There are many interesting stories that are appearing about the discovery but one resonated with me at the Workers’ Memorial ceremony at the Victorian Trades Hall this morning.
Last Friday was ANZAC Day in Australia, a day when we remember the fallen, particularly, in World War 1. At the dawn service at Geraldton, the closest town to where the HMAS Sydney was found, there was a record number of people, many there because of the Sydney. Some of the Sydney’s sailors’ family have travelled to the site of the wreckage to remember and to say goodbye.
At the Workers’ Memorial today, I met a woman who had been permitted to visit the site of her son’s workplace death. He died almost 10 years ago and she told me that for many years she would not have dreamt of going there but how glad she was that she finally did.
People have an odd need to visit the sites of dead relatives. It is perhaps the last tenuous link we have to our friend’s last conscious memories. As I grow older, I might better understand this need but at the moment those sites remind me of pain, trauma and sadness – emotions that should have no place at work.