April 28—National Day of Mourning
On April 28, 2006 we once again “remember the dead and fight for the living.” For 21 years now, workers and unions have used this day to honour those who have died, suffered injury or experienced illness due to work-related causes. As we mourn for those who have suffered, we re-affirm our commitment to fight for safe and healthy workplaces.
In 1983, the Canadian Labour Congress declared April 28th as a National Day of Mourning. Eight years later, in 1991, the Canadian government formally recognized the day. Now over 100 countries mark April 28 as a day to mourn for those lost and to renew commitments to improve workplace health and safety.
Workers have the right to go to work and return home each day in the same condition. Too often they don’t.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) found in 2005 that in addition to job-related deaths, each year around the world there are some 268 million non-fatal workplace injuries in which the victims miss at least three days of work. In addition, 160 million workers develop a work-related illness each year. In Ontario, statistics registered 336 deaths in 2005 (108 more fatality claims are waiting for decision) and over 88,000 accepted lost time claims. The fatality numbers do not reflect the true toll taken by occupational diseases, estimated to be as high as 6,000 workers every year. In 2005, there were almost four times as many claims for fatal diseases as there were for traumatic deaths. And the overwhelming majority of the claims pending are for occupational disease.
OPSEU members face danger every day on the job. Working alone, traffic accidents, violence on the job, toxic chemicals, stress, caring for the sick and back-breaking lifting, are just some of the hazards OPSEU members face to keep Ontario running.
This year the members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union grieve for John Stammers, who died after being struck by a car while on picket duty on March 20, 2006. John was a professor of Accounting at Centennial College in Scarborough. He died while standing up for what he and other OPSEU members believe in—the right to a fair contract.
Another OPSEU workplace was touched by tragedy recently when an Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) member Lori Dupont, a nurse, was murdered on the job this year by a co-worker at Windsor’s Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital.
When a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) driver was shot and lost the sight in his eye last October 15, 2005, the newspaper headlines screamed about increasing gun violence in Toronto. What about the fact that bus was the driver’s worksite?
Violence on the job is a health and safety issue and needs to be addressed by employers and the laws in Ontario. OPSEU will continue to work with the OFL and other unions to ensure that violence is recognized as a hazard in Ontario and that Ontario’s Ministry of Labour steps up to the plate to force employers to take precautions to protect workers from violence on the job.
In 2005, workers saw some Ministry of Labour initiatives to make their workplaces safer. The Asbestos Regulation was amended to make it more protective for workers. Employers now have to identify all sources of asbestos in the workplace, not just friable asbestos. Every employer in a building that contains any asbestos must have a Joint Health and Safety Committee, regardless of the number of employees, and regardless of whether the employer or employee is in the section of the building that contains asbestos. However, these changes are only stepping stones—our struggle will continue until asbestos is banned altogether and its removal compulsory. We will continue to press to substitute safe alternatives for all toxic chemicals even in the absence of absolute scientific certainty.
Also in 2005, the Ministry of Labour announced that it would implement a “Strains and Sprains” campaign instead of a regulation to address Ontario’s unacceptable repetitive strain injury rate. These debilitating injuries account for almost half of all accepted workers compensation claims in Ontario and cause workers a lifetime of pain. OPSEU will monitor the campaign, participate in developing an “Ergonomic Guideline” for Ontario, and continue to call upon the provincial government to compel—by regulation—employers to address ergonomics in the workplace.
Please join us for a minute of silence at 12 noon to pay tribute to all workers and families who mourn a loved one lost or suffering from illness or injury caused by work. Take a minute to think about John Stammers and Lori Dupont who have lost their lives this past year. Take a minute to think about what you can contribute to the fight for safe and healthy workplaces. Today, as we remember all those who suffer and who have suffered, we declare that we will continue our struggle to prevent deaths, injuries and diseases caused by unsafe workplaces.