Leeds TUC Workers' Memorial Day ceremony to remember frontline workers who died in Covid pandemic

Leeds frontline workers who have died after contracting Covid-19 will be at the forefront of people's thoughts as trade unions and others mark Workers' Memorial Day.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 6:00 am

Held every year on April 28, the global event remembers workers who lost their lives at work or from work-related injury or illness.

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The devastating impact of the pandemic means this year's commemorations will take on a particular poignancy as time is taken to remember those who have died.

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The unveiling of the Leeds memorial to workers in Victoria Gardens on Worker's Memorial Day in 2017. Picture: James Hardisty

In 2019, the TUC's 48 member unions remembered 42 people in the UK who had died through workplace accidents.

The past year has seen this number rise into the thousands, with more than 230 NHS and care staff named as having died from Covid-19 and the full figure expected to be much higher.

John Ingleson, secretary of the Unison's Leeds Teaching Hospitals Branch, said: "At the start of the pandemic, our members bravely worked in Covid areas not knowing what they were facing and what they were perhaps bringing home to their families.

"Many NHS workers have died during this terrible year, and on workers Memorial Day it is right that we stop and think about that - and give thanks for the work that all NHS workers have done under terrific pressure."

Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan and now council leader James Lewis taking part in Workers' Memorial Day commemorations in 2017 when the city's memorial to workers was first unveiled. Picture: James Hardisty

Others lost include Leeds First bus drivers Andy Powell and Nazrul Hussain, with a third colleague's death having been announced in February this year.

Leeds TUC secretary Pauline Bailey said: "We remember transport workers, shop workers, care staff, call centre staff, factory and warehouse staff, postal workers, medical and hospital staff, the list is endless.

"Many of these workers were in precarious, low paid, zero hour contract jobs and were not given the support they needed to stay safe. They still aren’t."

As well as being a day for reflection, Workers' Memorial Day also seeks to rally those committed to improving conditions for others in the future.

Ms Bailey said the Government must do more to make people safe at work, including effective systems for tracing Covid-19 cases and supporting those who need to isolate.

"We call for more resources to ensure that all workplaces are Covid-safe and properly ventilated so that many more potential workplace deaths can be avoided," she said.

"We call for sickness payments at a rate that enables workers to take time off work if they are ill or when they are having to self-isolate."

Leeds TUC president Jane Aitchison said it had continued to meet online weekly throughout the pandemic to help defend the city's workers from the risks faced.

She said: "Trade unions have provided support and protection to all those key workers risking their lives to keep us safe.

"Trade union membership is going up - because if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that trade unions have your back. We will remember the dead and we will always fight for the living."

Members of Leeds TUC will gather at 11am on Wednesday for a small, socially-distanced event at the Workers' Memorial Day monument in Victoria Gardens, outside Leeds Library.

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