Empowering every worker to ensure their workplaces is a healthy and safe one must be a priority for the Canadian labour movement, is the message long-time health and safety activist Dr. Linda Rae Murray brought to CUPE on the first day of the 11th National Health and Safety Conference.
In her keynote address to the over 500 CUPE members, leaders, activists and staff in Ottawa for the conference, Dr. Murray stressed the need to reach all workers with the importance of workplace health and safety.
“Our job as activists, is to take the issues we are passionate about, and show that passion to others,” said Dr. Murray. “The most important thing you can do is to make sure the people who work next to you know how these conditions are harming their health.”
Dr. Murray is currently Chief Medical Officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health in Illinois, and has been an advocate for social justice and the recognition of health care as a basic human right for over 40 years. She is a past president of the American Public Health Association, and a former CUPE member.
While highlighting the contributions the labour movement has made in improving workplace conditions, Dr. Murray told conference participants there is lot of work left to do.
“In Canada, basically a worker is killed every eight hours on the job. We need all Canadians to realize this, and to acknowledge that it is not acceptable,” said Dr. Murray.
But the importance of this work is not limited to the workplace. Especially for public sector unions like CUPE.
“In our jobs, our health and safety impacts everybody. When teachers are healthy, everyone gets a better education. When our water and waste water workers are safe, our drinking water is safe. When our healthcare workers are healthy and safe, our families get better care,” said Dr. Murray.
She also challenged CUPE to the see the health and safety implications in broader social justice issues.
“The most common occupational disease in the country is unemployment. Unemployment will make you sick, worrying about being unemployed will make you sick,” explained Dr. Murray. “Low paying jobs are a health and safety issue. Racism is a health and safety issue. Discrimination and violence against women is a health and safety issue.”
It’s because of this that Dr. Murray said it is vital for the labour movement to not just engage and work with union members, but reach out to all communities.
“In order for us to have safe workplaces in Canada, we must have social justice. We can make things right. When we fight for social justice, we fight for safe water systems, good schools, and better health care,” said Dr. Murray. “You can not have a healthy country if you don’t have a healthy labour movement.”
Concluding her keynote address, Dr. Murray was clear in the importance of working for healthier and safer workplaces and communities. “We have no choice, we must fight for what’s right. We have no choice, because we are fighting for our lives.”