We are a high-tech Chamber. It goes to show how busy we were this afternoon that I had so many notes to print and discuss.
For the past 15 years we in Sinn Féin have been urging the Government, and have supported previous attempts, to introduce such safeguards into the workplace, including in the form of a corporate manslaughter Bill tabled by my colleague, Deputy Jonathan O’Brien, in 2016. According to the Health and Safety Authority, 421 people lost their lives at work between 2008 and 2016. This huge loss of life should act as a call to action for the Government. There should be no further delay in this matter.
Hundreds of families are grieving the loss of their loved ones. The Government and employers owe it to those carrying the burden of that loss from the workplace to ensure that no more deaths due to deliberate neglect occur. Corporate killing, that is, death in the workplace as a result of employer indifference, needs to be put on a statutory footing. It is totally unacceptable that companies, through dereliction of their duty of care to those they employ, are endangering lives.
The sentiments I am expressing today would then apply to workplaces North and South. In the North, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into effect in 2007. Its first application occurred in a Belfast court in May 2012 and resulted in a firm being convicted of the death of an individual due to neglect. The firm in question was fined a considerable sum of money in respect of the death of its employee.
Safety in the workplace makes sense for workers and employers. It protects both. It is important to highlight that we too have a workers' memorial day to remember all those who have died. In remembering them, we are also saying that no more tragedies at work should occur as a result of deliberate negligence.
Health and safety in the workplace is not conditional on the ability of the employer to pay for it, nor should it be subject to a cost-benefit analysis. A price should not be placed on a worker’s life by an employer or the Government. In circumstances where an employer is responsible for an employee’s death, it is unacceptable that it is too difficult to hold the company to account and be made liable for that death, as outlined comprehensively by previous speakers.
As a bit of an aside, we need look no further than the Grenfell Tower fire in London last June and the devastation that appears to have been caused by a dereliction of duty on the part of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council, all in an apparent attempt to save costs. The official figure of those who lost their lives as a result was 71, although there is a general consensus that this figure is higher given that some people are unaccounted for. In citing that example we do not need to look very far. Senator Daly outlined some of the more well-known tragedies which have occurred closer to home.
It is clear, at least in my eyes, that the reason the people in Grenfell died was not because of some unfortunate tragedy but rather as a result of their perceived socioeconomic class. If this had been in another part of Kensington and if it had not social housing, we would still be outraged to this day. However, as these were, for the most part, welfare recipients, it has been swept under the carpet. As I said, we have seen similar devastation caused by fires closer to home at a halting site in Carrickmines and the apparent mismanagement on the part of the council to maintain the site to the point that it descended into a state of disrepair which caused, at least in part, the death of ten people, including children.
I do not make the accusation that this fits the definition of corporate manslaughter and understand that a case is being taken by the family as of very recently. I do not want to adjudicate on something that is before the courts. However, there is to this day an apparent lack of accountability or recourse in light of the deaths of these people.
The Law Reform Commission compiled a report on this very topic in 2005. The report contains two main recommendations. The first is that a new statutory criminal offence of corporate manslaughter should be enacted which would make an undertaking, such as a company, a public body or a partnership firm, responsible for a death arising from its gross negligence. The second key recommendation is that there should be an offence for senior managers of grossly negligent management causing death. A former Sinn Féin colleague, Arthur Morgan, produced a Bill on the back of this report, but unfortunately it lapsed. I hope the Government does not allow that to happen again this time.
It is not clear why it is failing in its duty of care to the working population in the introduction of a corporate manslaughter Bill. We can speculate about the motivation of employers when they oppose such legislation. If there is opposition from them, the Government must not be deflected from its primary responsibility in this important area. Sinn Féin believes a legal incentive is required to concentrate the minds of the Government and corporate bodies and would support the Bill were it to progress further. There should be no further delay in protecting workers' rights and their safety in the workplace. No person should ever have to go to work fearing that he or she will not return to his or her family owing to the incompetence of an employer.