Acknowledgement of Country

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Darkinjung people, and to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Acknowledgement of Dignitaries

Yasmin Catley, Deputy Leader NSW Labor
David Mehan MP State Member for The Entrance
Former Mayor Bob Graham, who was central to this memorial being founded in 2006
Maree Stokes, Vice President Asbestos Diseases Foundation Australia
Leianna Simms, Lisarow High School
Safe Work NSW
Anne Charlton, The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association

COVID19

On this international day of mourning commemorating those who have lost their lives at work or those who didn’t make it safely home, we must remember the at least 17,000 health workers who have died worldwide from COVID19.

That’s one health worker every 30 minutes.

In the US 3507 health workers have died, in Mexico 3371, Brazil 1143, Russia 1131 and the UK 931.

This is believed to be a conservative estimate given the under reporting in many parts of the world and is largely attributed to unsafe work conditions and lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

Many health workers such as hospital cleaners or community health workers have been excluded from protection because of the narrow definition of health workers, and in some countries were dismissed or arrested after demanding PPE.

And, tens of thousands of health workers are yet to be vaccinated. In fact, half the world’s vaccines have been administered in just ten rich countries. Not a single health worker has been vaccinated in more than 100 countries.

Gig Economy

And in Australia we haven’t escaped the workplace inequities of the pandemic.

The narrow definition of aged care worker has meant cleaners and cooks and personal care workers have missed out on the retention bonus - just as at risk, but more exposed.

And, in November last year, we saw the very real risks of the gig economy came into sharp focus when five delivery riders working for apps including Uber Eats, Door Dash and Hungry Panada were killed on the job in just two months. Of the five men killed, two were riding bicycles, two were riding motorcycles and one was riding a scooter.

Food delivery riders are classified are contractors and lack many of the rights of and protections of other workers. Often, they are on temporary visas and these workers were excluded from the pandemic safety nets JobKeeper and JobSeeker leaving them little option but to take on low-paid, insecure and risky gig jobs to survive.

Their earnings after costs are estimated to be just over $10 an hour.

They struggle to pay bills and buy food.

They deserve better.

Mental Health

I am increasingly concerned as protective factors like JobKeeper, JobSeeker and rental moratoriums are rolled back or removed.

A major mental health crisis has emerged nationally with suicide rates steadily climbing since 2000.

  • Nine Australians die every day by suicide.
  • 75% of those who take their own life are male.
  • In 2019, 3,318 Australians took their own life.
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44.
  • People in rural populations are 2 times more likely to die by suicide.

Today, as we remember those who lost their lives through workplace incidents and occupational diseases, mental health must be our focus.

Workplace related suicides may be triggered by:

  • being investigated over a work matter
  • performance pressures and long hours
  • fear of retrenchment or actual retrenchment

As a former mental health worker, I am relieved we have come a long way in talking about mental health in the workplace.

But we have a long way to go to remove stigma, and to make workplaces safe for everyone.

We do speak more freely about mental health.

We’ve made many gains in workplace conditions, but some have been lost.

As soon as someone’s work is insecure, it has an impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

On this day, we need to be mindful of mental health in the workplace.

Problems are often invisible, until someone is in crisis.

As well as our families and friends, we must all watch out for our fellow workers. Are they safe in their workplace? Is there something more we can do?

Thank you.