Media Releases

Broad coalition honours Workers' Memorial Day, calling for urgent workplace safety reform

April 27, 2023

JOINT STATEMENT FROM: SA Unions, Voice of Industrial Death, CFMEU SA, Ambulance Employees' Association SA, Asbestos Victims Association SA.

Friday 28th of April, Unions join with community here and around the world in commemorating International Workers' Memorial Day. This day commemorates workers who have lost their lives and is a call to action to fight for the living.

According to the latest data from SafeWork Australia, 198 people have lost their lives while working in Australia during the 2021-22, and just this week, a South Australian worker was killed in the state's far north and another was critically injured just across the border in the South east. This is a sobering reminder of the urgent need to reform the workplace safety system to proactively address workplace safety.

This year's commemoration comes following the release of a damning report into SafeWork SA by John Merritt. The report identified a litany of failures, stating the agency's "excessive internal focus appears to have come at the expense of the organisation focusing on the health and safety outcomes in the state."

"Today is a somber reminder of the human cost of work-related accidents, injuries, and illnesses", said Dale Beasley.

"Every number is a lost child, parent, partner, friend. Someone who left their loved ones for work at the start of the day and never came home. We remember those people and their loved ones and renew our commitment to fight for safer workplaces for all workers."

"The loss of even one life is one too many. South Australian workplaces must ambitiously strive to end workplace fatalities. To do that we need the government to lead urgent reform that proactively addresses safety risks before tragedy strikes."

"Workers are relying on the government to act now and lead real reform that helps them rectify safety issues. We've got the chance to lead real reform in South Australian workplaces that will save lives."

Andrea Madeley’s 18-year-old son Daniel died in a preventable workplace accident in 2004. Since then, Andrea has become a tenacious advocate for others affected by workplace death and injury, and through Voice of Industrial Death, has become a powerful voice against unsafe work practices.

"No family should go through what we've been through. SafeWork can't be everywhere and in 2023, they should not need to be. Each time a worker’s life is lost, a new family is served a life sentence. It is a cruel fact – a devastating truth,” said Andrea Madeley.

"I also call on the state government to empower workers' families when the unthinkable happens. We need mechanism for stronger accountability, support and compensation. Those mechanisms should be real – not symbolic. The law should recognise the family and that life sentence they will serve. It is as simple as that.” 

The recent death of a NSW Paramedic following an unprovoked attack has sent shockwaves across Australia and the Ambulance Community.

"Their risk of injury is much broader than from violence alone. Ambos are at increased risk of physical and psychological injury due to the very nature of the work they do every single day. They have the highest injury rate of any profession in Australia and are 7 times more likely to be seriously injured at work than the national average," said Leah Watkins.

"A career of exposure to death and trauma can have a cumulative impact, causing invisible injuries including PTSD, anxiety and depression."

"AEA members today wear a black ribbon for their fallen comrade, and for the hundreds of Australian workers who tragically never made it home to their families."

“In South Australia the Merritt review has handed the Malinauskas Government a blueprint to rebuilding a work health and safety system that has collapsed, by allowing workers and their families to take action to enforce what is already the law," said Assistant Secretary Marcus Pare.

“Implementing in full the recommendations from the Merritt review is critical to ensuring that we have a work health and safety system that is capable of stopping preventable deaths before they happen.”

“The CFMEU calls upon Governments both Federal and State to take urgent action and to implement a ban on engineered stone. It is scandalous that over a hundred thousand Australian workers are facing painful deaths from work related exposure to Silica, the result of this product which serves no purpose but fashion. It could be banned tomorrow without difficulty. Every day that this fatal product is allowed to remain in the market Governments and Builders are placing aesthetics over Australian workers lives. If Governments won’t take action the CFMEU will.”

"4000 Australians die each year from Asbestos related disease. That’s 3 times the annual road toll," said Lesley Shears from the Asbestos Victims Association. "That's an additional 4000 grieving families, every single year."

"In Australia, 12m tons of Asbestos exists in the built environment. One third of homes. It’s found in workplaces, schools and many other places. This legacy asbestos is breaking down in our environment due to its age, fire and floods. People are renovating their houses unaware."

"We're here today to support the families of those lost, but we're also here to get serious about tackling the problem, because I can't bear to see new faces lighting candles in that church each year." 

International Workers' Memorial Day 2023, will be marked with hundreds of unionists gathering for a minute's silence in Victoria Square at 9:30am, and then supporting the families of fallen workers at the Pilgrim Uniting Church Service organised by VOID (Voices of Industrial Death) at 10:00am.