Some 23 years after CUPE’s National Health and Safety Committee recommended the creation of a remembrance day for workers killed or injured on the job, we are still demanding health and safety justice in our workplaces.
The Canadian Labour Congress and affiliated unions quickly adopted the day across Canada. The American labour movement observed its first workers’ memorial day in 1989. April 28th was chosen because it marks the anniversary of the passage of the first Canadian Workers’ Compensation Act on April 28, 1914, in Ontario.
CUPE chose the canary in a cage as the internationally recognized symbol fitting for April 28th. In the 1800s, miners took a caged canary with them into the mines (canaries are more sensitive to airborne hazards and the absence of oxygen than humans). If the canaries were overcome, it was a sign to quickly evacuate the mine.
Today, different levels of government recognize the day. The federal government passed legislation in 1991 declaring April 28th “A Day of Remembrance for Workers Killed or Injured at Work.” Each year more Canadian municipalities and provinces recognize April 28th. In some instances, employers also participate in the activities that mark the Day of Mourning.
But, let’s not forget how the day originated and why workers come together. The Day of Mourning was born of the values of unionists. It was created to stop the needless injuries and deaths that occur each and every day, when employers are negligent or governments fail to enforce laws. It is a powerful symbol of workers’ ongoing struggles for decent, safe working conditions and basic human rights.
This April 28th please take part in your local’s activities to mark the day. We must mourn the dead and continue to fight for the living.