Protect the frontliners; remember the fallen workers

April 28, 2020

The Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) joins the global solidarity to commemorate the workers who have been killed, disabled, maimed, injured, and made unwell due to lack of safety measures in workplaces.

“We mourn for the workers who have been subjected to poor and hazardous working conditions. Tragedies in workplaces continue to soar for years in profit-driven economies under the neoliberal regime.” Jazminda Lumang, General Secretary of APRN said.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Asia Pacific region recorded the highest number of annual work-related deaths in the world at 70 percent or 1.4 million (2017). The poorest, least informed, and least trained are the most vulnerable. More often than not, they are made to undertake dirty, dangerous, and difficult jobs. Women, children, migrant workers, and ethnic minorities are mostly involved.

Work-related deaths in Asia Pacific

In 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing more than 1,134 workers. The illegally built sweatshop factory is a consignee to international companies Benetton, J. C. Penney, Carrefour, Walmart, Joe Fresh, the Children’s Place, Mascot, El Corte Ingles, Cato Fashions, and Primark. Factory workers were earning US $2.00 a day for 12-14 hour shifts six to seven days a week.

In West Bengal, the United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) recorded that 1,000 farmworkers have died over the past decade due to malnutrition and other hunger-related diseases. Workers reportedly earned only US $ 1.18 a day to produce the expensive Darjeeling tea.

In 2015, a fire broke out at Kentex, a small manufacturer of flip flops in Valenzuela City, Metro Manila. Seventy-four (74) people were trapped inside and killed in the fire. Sweatshop conditions of the workers, non-compliance to fire safety regulations, and lax implementation of occupational safety were the main causes of the tragedy.

Strengthen occupational safety and health for the frontline workers

As the world faces the coronavirus havoc, the frontline workers – the health workers, the factory workers, and transporters display uncommon courage and valor to serve humanity in these tough times. Moreover, in exerting all efforts to stop the spread of CoVID-19, APRN asserts the primacy of occupational safety and access to health care for frontline workers in Asia Pacific.

Recent analysis from Deep Knowledge Group, a company of data experts, shows that nine (9) out of the twenty (20) riskiest countries during the coronavirus pandemic are from Asia Pacific. The following countries are Iran (7), Philippines (9), Bangladesh (13), India (15), Sri Lanka (16), Indonesia (17), Myanmar (18), Cambodia (19), and Laos (20).

“Since this region is one of the hotbeds of the pandemic, it is all the more necessary for governments to provide all-out social protection. They must ensure the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to every health worker. Manufacturers of essential goods and the transport sector should be monitored to guarantee that they are complying to occupational safety and health measures. The frontline workers should be entitled to wage increase, hazard pay, and free medical assistance.” Lumang said.

Remembering the frontline heroes

The research group commends the extensive efforts of frontline workers in providing services for the people amid the lockdowns. APRN also pays tribute to fallen healthcare workers.

“We applaud the heroic task of our frontline workers. We revere those who have lost their lives to save others. They deserve honor and should be remembered for their nobility to save humanity.” Lumang concluded.