Yesterday’s tragic accident which saw an injured migrant worker discarded on the side of a road was the latest in a series of construction site accidents that have left migrant workers seriously injured or even dead.
Lovin Malta spoke to Jesmond Marshall, the Section Secretary of the Workers Union for the Metal and Construction industry, who explained why non-Maltese construction workers have way more fatalities at work than locals.
Marshall gave his comments before yesterday’s incident, but they are still very relevant today.
“Every accident is one too many,” he said. “We hear about accidents through the media and industry, and it saddens us.”
The union aims to have no accidents at all. “Our target is to have zero accidents – both non-fatal and fatal. As a trade union, it is unacceptable that an employee dies or suffers injury at his place of work.”
And while the union constantly requests risk assessments to make sure that every process is risk-free, it doesn’t have any knowledge of what happens in companies where the union is not involved.
“We provide training and protective gear to our members, and monitor every part of the ongoing operations. You can immediately notice the difference between workers organised in a trade union and those who are not.”
Though health and safety regulations are in place and the legislation is detailed and vast, the problem lies in enforcement and education, Marshall said.
“What irks me is that some employers and employees, even though they hear about these accidents, still ignore safety procedures and regulations. They believe it will never happen to them.”
Breaking the health and safety regulations is considered a serious infringement of the collective agreement, and a committee ensures that all procedures are followed in every workplace.
“Then again, we cannot comment on employees that are not organised in a trade union.”
Third country nationals, like the man in yesterday’s accident, are especially at risk, as they often don’t have any knowledge of the health and safety regulations.
“Most of these workers find themselves in the construction industry unintentionally. Regrettably, these workers are the most abused.”
In workplaces where the union is recognised, they are treated equally and have the same working conditions and benefits. They receive the same training and the same personal protective clothing as other workers.
“However, we cannot visit any building site to talk to workers without permission to enter the site. No employer will give you access or permission unless the workers are union members.”
“Furthermore, these workers are very reluctant to speak to Trade Unions representatives or any other authority. They are afraid they will lose their job.”
Sadly, this results in way higher accident rates in third-country nationals who end up working in construction.
While many of them fled their war-torn and poverty-struck countries in the hopes of finding a safe place abroad, they end up exploited and endangered by careless Maltese employers.
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