NZPFU members and representatives will be attending and speaking at Workers Memorial Day events around the country today.

Internationally, workers and their unions gather on 28 April to remember those killed and injured on the job, or as a result of their work.  We reflect on the battles we have to protect the health and safety of today’s workers and the challenges ahead. The date was originally recognition of the day the Occupational Safety and Health Act came into effect in 1970 which the American Federal of Labor and Congress (AFL-CIO) had fought long and hard for.

The quote “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living” has been attributed to Mary Harris Jones known as Mother Jones, an Irish migrant who became a revered Union organiser after she lost everything in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.  She was particularly recognised for her work for miners in the coalfields and later her work to abolish child labour.

In 2023 Unions globally are recognising the significance of the International Labour Conference’s decision to recognise occupational health and safety as the fifth fundamental principle and right at work.  The other four principles are the freedom of association and the effective recognition on the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

In New Zealand the tragic loss of Muriwai volunteer firefighters Dave Van Zwanenberg and Craig Stevens will be at the forefront for many.

It is an opportunity to reflect on the inherent dangers of firefighting and the changes needed to mitigate those dangers.  It is also an opportunity to educate on the greatest killer of them all – occupational cancer.

Firefighters, trainers and fire investigators cannot be fully protected from absorbing the toxic smoke and off-gassing of structure fires. 

  • Every career firefighter in Canada and Australia, and in most states in the USA have the protection of presumptive legislation to ensure they can access their rights and entitlements for occupational cancer. 
  • This year the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) upgraded the occupation of firefighting to the highest classification of carcinogenic to humans.  Other Group 1 carcinogens include benzene, asbestos, tobacco and formaldehyde.

But despite assurances, in New Zealand firefighters are still having to fight for recognition and firefighters diagnosed with one of the accepted firefighter occupational cancers still have to provide evidence of their exposures and often have to be supported by the NZPFU through legal processes, some taking years, before they are covered by ACC as they would for any other work-related injury such as burns.

For the NZPFU the fight goes on for presumptive legislation to protect our members in their greatest time of need.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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