Monday, 28 April 2008

workers memorial day

i watched the video clip of one of the men involved in the london bombing as he said goodbye to his daughter. my feelings ranged from feeling sad to feeling sick to feeling extremely angry. the sadness was for his family and his victims. the sickness was at the way this person had lost his moral compass so much that he could commit mass murder in cold blood, and somehow think it was his ticket to heaven. the anger was at his claim that he was committing this act "for islam". i felt that phrase as a personal insult. by using those words, he was associating himself to me and to the other 1.4 billion muslims around the world, by way of our supposedly shared religion. yet the vast majority of them have condemned his act. muslim scholars from around the world have been increasingly vocal in condemning violence and terrorist acts, and particularly bombings such as these.

i caught the tail end of the programme "give it a whirl" on tv1 this saturday morning. it seemed to be about a christian man going to live as a muslim for a month. when i tuned in, his muslim host was expressing disapproval at the christian fellow apologising for the 9/11 bombing on a radio programme (the christian appeared to be posing as a muslim for the show). the muslim explained that by apologising, he was accepting that he somehow had a responsibility for the attack, when in fact there was none. guilt by association is simply unacceptable, yet it's very hard to escape.

tomorrow is worker's memorial day, being commemorated in various places across the country. it's a day to remember workers who have died while at work. the figures i've linked to don't inlcude "fatalities in the maritime or aviation sectors, or fatalities due to work-related crashes on the road as these are investigated by Maritime New Zealand, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the NZ Police respectively. The Department of Labour figures do not include fatalities from long latency diseases caused by exposure to hazardous substances." so the number of deaths is much higher.

in an environment where health and safety laws are treated as "red-tape", as adding unnecessarily to labour costs, and as "nanny-statism"; it's vital that we take time to remember why these laws are so important. they save lives. they prevent accidents. if manufacturers like fisher & paykel are taking their work off-shore because of over-regulation, we really need to be asking which parts of the health and safety regulations they think are unnecessary?

many years ago now, i visited a factory in india where brass doorknobs and the like were manufactured. the workers were mainly teenage boys, very skinny. they wore no protective clothing. they were breathing in smoke and who knows what else, with nothing to protect them. i can only imagine the pittance they were being paid. at the time i didn't have the courage to grill our host who was giving us a tour of the family business he was so proud of. a business that allowed him to live in a beautiful mansion, with chauffer-driven cars and all the other accoutrements of the high-class asian life.

looking back now, it amazes me that he could go to work every day and be immune to the work conditions of his staff. but he is very obviously not unique. that so many major companies around the world are shifting their centre of operations to low-wage economies shows the blindness is universal.

tomorrow we need to be thinking not just about nz workers, but about all those around the world. especially those who have little or no protection. it's not that there aren't any labour laws in these countries. it's that the laws can be flouted with little or no consequence. it's that the regulations are seen as tedious and a barrier to successful business. it's the loss of humanity in the search for ever-rising profits.

i hope people aren't all grieved out from anzac day. we must spare a moment to grieve for dead workers too.

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