One evening in 1994, while heading to see a movie at Hoyts 8 (the old Christchurch Railway Station on Moorhouse Ave), I spotted in the corner of my eye what turned out to be the ‘Canterbury Workers’ Memorial’, on a small piece of land – by the eastern end of the car park – gifted to the workers of Canterbury by the Christchurch City Council. It was erected in 1988 as an unofficial memorial to all Cantab men and women, killed, injured or made sick while at work.
The memorial placement in the city couldn’t have been more fitting. Just over the fence, run the city’s railway lines – an industry that has seen the loss of many workers’ lives over the years – and this land, while worked by the Christchurch Railway Station, was previously known as the Marshalling Centre, an area for the shunting of railway wagons which was a particularly dangerous place to be working.
Around the world on 28th April every year the International Workers Memorial Day brings together trade unions, workplace health & safety advocates, employers and employees of every kind, to ‘…mourn for the dead, but fight for the living…’ – making pledges to continue the battle for further improvements in the workplace.
With around 2 million workers deaths, and 270 million work related injuries recorded every year around the world, over one hundred countries take part in the International Workers’ Memorial Day. It is sobering to think that one worker dies every 15 seconds.
Sadly, New Zealand has yet to acknowledge this date as a national day of mourning or remembrance.
The first Workers’ Memorial Day was declared in 1970 by the AFL –CLO (American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations). Canada followed suit in 1984 and the U.K in 1992.
North American, Asian, European and African trade unions have organized events since 1989 which include the laying of wreaths, balloons, tree planting or the symbolic use of ‘empty shoes’ are generally used during these ceremonies.
*Photo taken by Annette Bulovic*