Special Events Mark the Day of Mourning

April 29, 2010

April 28th of Each Year is the Day of Mourning, a day set aside by the labour movement and the Government of Canada to honour workers who have killed, injured or sickened in the workplace. It is a day of mourning across Canada and in many other countries of the world as well. The ongoing need for these events in memory of the dead and injured upsets SAFE Workers of Tomorrow (SWOT) Executive Director Ellen Olfert.

She said “Too many working people are dying in Manitoba and Canada and far too many more are being injured – sometimes permanently. I hope that through programs like SAFE Workers of Tomorrow, we can one day put an end to this tragic loss of life.”

SWOT is supported by the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the government of Manitoba, the Workers Compensation Board and numerous unions and corporations. Its mandate is to educate young people about their health and safety rights in the workplace and how to recognize and avoid hazardous workplace conditions that may result in injury or death. Between September 2009 and the end of April, 2010, SWOT volunteer speakers reached 18,563 Manitoban students through classroom presentations.

Scenes from the Day of Mourning

One of the events organized by SWOT on April 28, 2010, was a ‘Leader’s Walk’ of more than 100 leaders from the labour movement, government, businesses and schools. They walked from the Union Centre to the Manitoba Legislature where more than 130 students from St. Norbert Collegiate, Seven Oaks Middle School and other High Schools honoured this year’s theme for the Day of Mourning, ‘Remember And Recognize the Loss’.

Another event was the Memorial Service held in the evening by the MFL. Among the more than 50 people who attend was Marilyn Brick, MLA for St. Norbert, Deborah Jamerson for the Canadian Labour Congress, Donna MacDonald for the Winnipeg Labour Council, and Carol Leveridge from the MFL Occupation Health Centre. Entertainment was provided by Hugo Torres Cereceda and Florence Marquez. The names of the brothers and sisters who died on the job in Manitoba in 2009 were read out with a candle being lit as they were read and one large candle was lit for the workers who succumbed to occupational disease in 2009. One of the speakers at the event was MFL President Kevin Rebeck.

“According to the latest official report from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada covering 2008,” Rebeck told those in attendance, “1,036 sisters and brothers lost their lives at work in Canada. That’s twenty people every week. Dead because their workplace was not safe. Dead because they got injured. Dead because they got cancer. Dead because they were attacked. Dead because their employer failed to ensure they were safe at work.

“Over the last decade, the number of Canadians who die every year because of something that happened to them at work has been steadily growing. In 1998, the number stood at 809. Ten years later in 2008, the number was almost 30 per cent more. And the preliminary numbers for 2009 in some provinces don’t look like much of an improvement.

“Here in Manitoba, measures taken by the NDP have reduced the annual injury rate by 30 per cent since the year 2000, a remarkable improvement. But still we are plagued by an injury rate that amounts to 38 injured workers for every thousand workers – the highest rate in Canada, bar none. In spite of the achievements, Manitoba is still the most dangerous province in Canada to work in.

“Why? We believe a major reason is that there are still not enough resources to enforce those new laws. This is not unique to Manitoba, it’s the reason why Canada’s workplaces claim a growing number of lives every year – the laws are not enforced, so reckless employers are allowed to carry on without consequence.

“Today is the day we remember those whose lives have been taken. Mourn them. Think of the families and friends left behind. Share their grief. If you can, imagine their loss. Then, think of the employers who got away with manslaughter and murder. Get angry. Be outraged.

“Then resolve to do something. Do something to make sure that your workplace is safe. And what is it you can do?

“You can work hard to make sure the joint health and safety committee in your workplace is effective. You can talk to elected officials about this whenever you have the chance, such as when they’re looking for your support. Above all, you can talk to young people, whether they are in your family or not, and do what you can to make sure their next day on the job isn’t their last. And finally, never forget this day and what it represents.”