Under an umbrella of blue sky, a solemn group gathered at the Forest Workers Memorial in Lake Cowichan on Sunday, April 28, for Canada’s National Day of Mourning.
The Nanaimo, Duncan and District Labour Council organized the ceremony that pays tribute to the workers who are killed and injured each year due to workplace causes.
NDDLC president Ellen Oxman and administrator Bob Smits invited several representatives of different labour unions to speak about their experiences with work-related injuries and deaths.
As Rick Whitefield of the Steelworkers Union (Local 1-1937) said, for many of those who attend the service, April 28 is a very personal experience.
“ Most of us have either had an injury on the job or know someone who has had one,” he said. “We know it can happen to any of us and the effects can be devastating.”
For MLA Bill Routley, whose career in the forest industry here at the lake led him to take on the role of safety chairman and plant chairman before being elected president of the IWA Local 1-80, there is still not enough improvement on safety in the workplace.
“Yes we have made some progress over the years,” Routley said, “But I am extremely frustrated when I see rules and regulations that have been cut for the sake of dollars. Some of those rules and regulations were put in place because someone died.”
Although it happened half way around the world, a moment was taken to recall the recent tragedy of the garment factory that collapsed in Bangladesh, in which the death toll has amounted to over 350 people.
Oxman used the occasion to announce that from now on, injuries and deaths in the workplace due to negligence and a lack of safety will be considered a criminal offence.
“Laws must be enforced, and the criminal code must be used to send a strong signal to negligent employers who willfully place their workers in danger,” the NDDLC president said. “Police and prosecutors will be trained, because they need to have a better understanding of the changes to the criminal code so they can lay charges when deaths occur in the workplace.”
The Day of Mourning was first observed in Canada in 1991. Although it is now internationally observed, workplace deaths go largely unnoticed, except by the surviving family members, friends and colleagues who are left to mourn the loss.