April 28 National Day of Mourning
Statement by Judy Darcy
National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees
Three Canadian workers will be killed today in the peaceful pursuit of a living. Thats according to conservative estimates calculated by provincial and territorial Workplace Compensation Boards. Each year there are 1,000 workers killed, one million workplace injuries, and thousands of workers made sick or diseased by their work.
One day a year is set aside to mourn these workers. Quickly now, when is that day?
In 1991 the federal government passed the Workers Mourning Day Act. It is brief legislation, the crux of which reads: Throughout Canada, in each and every year, the 28th day of April shall be known under the name of Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.
The Day of Mourning honours the dead and injured struck down in our communities. It often focuses attention on workers killed, injured, and made sick by their work during the previous year.
Workplace fatalities might typically conjure images of mining or nautical disasters. But such catastrophesthankfullyseldom occur. Instead, workers are ravaged by a war of attritiona slow burn of fatalities, injuries and diseases that Canadian society largely regards as acceptable.
A death toll of an estimated 11,000 workers since the Workers Mourning Day Act was passed is not acceptable. Thats a sum about equal to the population of an average small town. Imagine, since 1991, the equivalent of one Edmunston, New Brunswick or Nelson, British Columbia wiped off the map.
In the last forty years, the number of Canadian workplace deaths is roughly equal to the number of Canadian fatalities from World War II. We might expect death in war; we should not expect death in the workplace.
Workplace deaths are preventable. Governments and employers possess the knowledge and resources to recognize and eliminate workplace hazards. They know what workplace chemicals cause cancer. They know which work processes cause musculoskeletal injuries. They know how to end workplace violence.
Still, each year, more workers are killed, injured and made sick. At this point in our nations development, surely workers returning home each day healthy and alive is a reasonable expectation.
Consider public sector health care workers. Hospitals are seen as centres of healing. Yet health care workers suffer more debilitating workplace injuries than any other group. Back injuries, stress and overwork are crippling these public sector workers. Our hospitals should have some of the countrys healthiest workers. Instead, the health care sector is a barometer for the dismal state of workers health.
Unions have always driven a progressive health and safety agenda. Legislation, regulations and occupational disease prevention would be relegated to the back burner if not for union struggles.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees provides health and safety leadership. The Day of Mourning was founded based on a resolution written by CUPEs National Health and Safety Committee in 1984. And while some governments and employers pay lip-service to April 28th, CUPE fights for safe and healthy work practices 365 days a year. CUPE is on the front line of health and safety, recommending preventive strategies and solutions, demanding enforcement of existing health and safety laws and lobbying governments to enact new, worker protections.
Until workers stop being killed, injured and made sick on the job, the Day of Mourning will be necessary. Until our communities are truly healthy, the Day of Mourning will be necessary. Until governments and employers fulfill their obligations to provide safe and healthy workplaces, the Day of Mourning will be necessary.
Health and safety problems are societal and community problems. It is time we all begin questioning how long we are willing to let our workplaces be killing fields.
This April 28th remember the workplace dead, sick and injured. Chances are, they are your co-workers, neighbours, friends, and even family members.
Sandra Sorensen, CUPE Communications,
(613) 237-1590 ext. 268
Anthony Pizzino, CUPE Health and Safety,
(613) 237-1590 ext. 289