National Day of Mourning
Honour the Dead by Defending the Living
By: Yukon Federation of Labour President Teresa Acheson
Each year, on April 28, workers and their families come together at National Day of Mourning ceremonies across Canada, to mourn workers lost to workplace illness and injury.
And each year, Canada records roughly 1,000 workplace deaths. There were over 277,000 accepted claims for time off due to workplace illness or injury in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available.
Even with our revised occupational health and safety legislation, employer policies, and workplace heath and safety committees, the stats still show that every year, the number of workers injured, made sick or killed at work increases. For all the advancements we’ve made around workplace safety in Canada, somewhere, something is falling short.
Here in the Yukon Territory, we lost 1 worker in the last year and there were 450 workers with accepted claims for time lost.
All workers deserve to feel safe at work and to leave safely at the end of their workday. We need to all come to a place where we find any workplace illness, injury, or death as truly unacceptable. With more mining operations opening in Yukon, our attention to worker safety needs to branch out even more beyond jobs in urban areas, communities, or farms. The tragedy on November 24, 2022, at the Air North Cargo office is an example of a tragedy at a workplace. For many it was an event read about in a news article that one day. For those workers, it is an event that will stay with them each time they return to the office. And the impact reverberates in their families and communities. They need our support and care.
We know that workplace incident investigations are not all treated with the necessary urgency or importance. In my experience as a worker and union rep, I had a member who reported being assaulted on a job site by another person. This event involved multiple employers and the member’s employer response was “just don’t return to that job site…we can move you somewhere else” and then proceeded months later with a partial investigation. Canada’s unions have long called for those responsible for negligence or wrongdoing to be held accountable through full investigation into workplace injuries and deaths.
Canada’s unions also want to ensure that workers are supported and feel empowered to stand up for their health and safety rights at work. We want to ensure that workers are equipped with the proper knowledge and tools to safely do their jobs and to call out infractions when they see them. The most powerful tool to make work safer is a health and safety committee with educated and empowered workers protecting their fellow workers and holding employers to account. Unions want to ensure that workers can walk in the authority and respect given to them as health and safety committee members.
Workers should never be in a position where they feel the need to perform unsafe work or risk losing their jobs. Moreover, they should never be afraid to report unsafe work. Occupational health and safety is a collective responsibility and Canada’s unions are committed to standing behind workers in knowing their rights, using the tools and defending our hard fought health and safety wins.
We will continue to educate and empower workers to stand up to employers who would risk workplace safety to cut corners or save a few dollars. We will honour those who died or were injured at work by fighting for the living and defending worker rights.