April 28, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the first
National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured on the Job.
Workers in Canada and around the world are holding ceremonies, meetings
and moments of silence to mourn the dead and fight for the living. At
the heart of these actions is the demand
that the right of all workers to safe and healthy working conditions be
recognized and provided with a guarantee. This means that monopolies'
criminal neglect of workers' health and safety must be punished and
that governments must enforce public right, not monopoly right.
Resistance is growing and workers are taking action to break the wall of silence and mobilize society to improve the situation. Actions are also being taken to end the monopolies' impunity for the killing and maiming of workers. For example steelworkers are demanding city councils endorse their campaign "Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law," for the implementation of the Westray Act, Bill C-45, to hold corporations, their directors and executives criminally accountable for the health and safety of workers. Steelworkers have also forced the Ontario government to hold a public review of mining practices, where workers have directly intervened to say what is going on and demand justice. When a Rio Tinto worker died at work in Alma, Quebec on April 30 last year, the workers waged a vigorous campaign both in the case they presented to the Workplace Health and Safety Commission and the stand they took on the shop floor that they will not carry on production as usual if the working conditions are not safe. They asked for immediate remedies to problems on the shop floor and refused to let the issue be reduced to grievances and arbitration.
TML supports these initiatives and others through which workers are making their demands widely known and their voices heard. The tragedy at Lac-Mégantic has shown once again how the monopolies and their governments make deals behind closed doors that allow the monopolies to run their operations in the most hazardous and reckless ways that eliminate the main human factor, the workers themselves. It is workers who actually make the operations function and know what is needed to make them healthy and safe. The numbers of workers in jobs crucial to not only their own health and safety but that of the public is shrinking. Their workload and the harassment they face from the companies does not permit them to do a thorough job with peace of mind. For example, CN Rail's demands that its workers increase their hours and consequently their fatigue shows the absence of care for those who are the backbone of the industry.
On April 28, workers will demand once again in solemn commemorations of their fellow workers who have been killed, injured and made sick at work that the right of workers to healthy and safe working conditions be provided with a guarantee. Monopolies and governments in their service must be made to render account for the deaths, injuries and diseases inflicted on workers./p>
Think Workplace Fatalities Are a Thing of the Past? Together, We Have Made Progress but We Must Keep Fighting for Safer Workplaces
Unions are about more than decent jobs for workers. The labour movement also works to make workplaces safe for everyone. Yet, each year thousands of Canadians are killed or injured on the job or die from work-related diseases. In 2012, 979 Canadians died because of their work, but we know the numbers are higher because official figures only capture those who received workers' compensation benefits. Hundreds more die from under-reported illnesses and occupational diseases that go unrecognized in the compensation systems.
Despite the frequency and tragedy of these deaths, negligent corporations that kill workers face little public, political or legal scrutiny. While police routinely investigate and lay charges related to homicides, different rules seem to apply to workplace fatalities. We should not tolerate a situation where companies willfully neglect health and safety measures that would prevent injury and death. For example, nearly two years after a Burns Lake, B.C., explosion and fire took the lives of two workers, it was announced that neither criminal charges nor charges under the provincial workers compensation or occupational health and safety legislation would be laid. Justice is not being served. We must have thorough scrutiny for potential criminal liability on the part of those employers who are negligent.
Governments have a responsibility to properly enforce health and safety laws and the criminal code. Yet the same politicians who claim to be tough on crime are soft on corporations responsible for workers' injuries and deaths.
This amounts to unequal treatment before the law, with different rules for investigating fatalities in workplaces than for those occurring elsewhere. Fairness works only if corporations and their representatives are held accountable -- in the same way perpetrators of other crimes are held to account.
On April 28th we mourn those who have died. However, the deaths of these workers are also a reminder that all levels of government must do more to enforce our health and safety laws and vigorously prosecute violations when a worker is killed or seriously injured. It is time for fair and equal treatment before the law for workplace injuries and deaths. Together we have made good progress protecting workers' health and safety but we have to keep fighting for safer workplaces for everyone.
Oil Sands Worker Killed on Eve of Day of Mourning
Workers' fight for the right to healthy and safe working conditions and for governments to hold companies to account was underscored by the death of an oil sands worker on April 20.
"With great sadness we report the death of a member in a workplace facility," Unifor Local 707A Secretary-Treasurer Angela Adams wrote in a letter to members of the Fort McMurray local.
Shane Daye, 27, who grew up in Fort MacMurray, was killed April 20 in an area that contained electrical panels. The Suncor employee had just earned his journeyperson electrical ticket. He is the second oil sands worker to be killed on the job this year.
"Every year, hundreds of thousands suffer injury or illness because of their working conditions," Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in a recent letter to Unifor locals across the country. "And some of these workers die on the job."
Dias urged Unifor leaders and activists to actively support Day of Mourning observances in their communities on April 28.
"Let us collectively ensure that this year's Day of Mourning observances sends a strong message to all governments of their obligation and responsibility to strongly enforce health and safety laws and regulations," Dias wrote.
"We need to tell our elected politicians we want action and we intend to support only those who will give us this commitment."
There were 977 on-the-job deaths in Canada in 2012, a 29 per cent increase since 1993. Saskatchewan and Yukon had the highest per-capita death rates. As well, there were 245,365 workplace injuries across Canada in 2012 that were serious enough to force people to stop working.
Forum Marks 40th Anniversary of
The CSST blames Rio Tinto Alcan for allowing unsecured access to the hazardous area and for failing to indicate danger. The investigators also found that the process used to unblock machinery while it is in operation exposed the worker to danger and there was a mismanagement of health and safety risks for workers by Rio Tinto Alcan via-à-vis the unblocking of the rods. The CSST required that all Rio Tinto Alcan facilities be modified after the death of this worker to make the input area of their machines inaccessible. The CSST believes that the employer has acted to endanger the health and safety of workers. As a result, a fine was issued. For this type of offence, the fine ranges from $15,698 to $62,790 for a first offence and $31,395 to $156,976 for a subsequent offence.
Hugues Villeneuve, President of the United Steelworkers Local 9490, which represents the Rio Tinto Alcan workers in Alma, in a recent interview with the online newspaper Chantier politique, said: "If there was one main thread in this report it's that despite the laws we have in Quebec, despite the processes, procedures and all the tools we have to prevent accidents and to have good health and safety at the Alma plant, the employer can still be arbitrary. The company can decide to apply these or not. Everything that is needed to prevent this from happening exists in the factory."
What the Workers Have to Say
In 2012, 977
workplace deaths were recorded in
up from 919 the previous year. This represents more than 2.7 deaths every single day.
In the 20 year period
from 1993 to 2012, 18,039
people lost their lives due to
work-related causes (an average of 902 deaths per year).
As workers, on April 28 we gather to fight for the living and mourn for the dead. Unfortunately, this year it is not difficult for us to remember the recent workplace fatalities at our sister U.S. Steel plants and again at USW Local 6500 in Sudbury. Many ask themselves if things are not getting worse instead of better. The statistics released by the Canadian Labour Council point out that deaths caused by workplace incidents over the last 20 years have increased by 29%. That is a lot.
Why is this happening? It is happening because companies are hiding behind what they call Behaviour Based Safety -- BBS. This self-serving system puts the onus on workers to think long and hard before affirming their health and safety rights.
BBS usually shows short term positive results because workers do not report minor incidents or near misses. However, the negative impact is subsequently evident in more serious incidents and fatalities.
Confused by these results, many employers, including U.S. Steel, are trying a watered down version of this program where they claim that workers have an input. Unfortunately there is no commitment by Human Resources to change. This is the single most important factor that must change moving forward. Human Resources must become human and it is up to us to make it so.
On this occasion, Information Update has been reminded by workers about what happens when they uphold their right to refuse unsafe work. The two coke oven workers who refused unsafe work were both fired for ridiculous reasons. In fact, in the one case the HR department actually showed the Union confidential medical information pertaining to one of the workers. Even though the two workers were eventually reinstated, the Company used this as a warning.
More recently workers reported that on February 12 at approximately 10 pm, a coke oven supervisor was on top of the larry car unplugging a chute, which is a serious breach. He then proceeded to wipe out several pads on the ovens. He joked that had he wiped out 18 instead of 17 he would have been drug tested. The supervisor openly bragged to his crew that he can do whatever he wants. Apparently he can.
The Canadian Steelworkers have started a campaign to combat this trend of wanton disregard for the workers' health and safety. It is called Stop the Killing. On the occasion of this National Day of Mourning, as we mourn for the dead and fight for the living, I encourage you to visit the website and get on board -- www.stopthekilling.ca
(Reprinted from Information Update #11,
April 24, 2014, weekly newsletter of Local 1005 USW.)
In the rail industry, I think the fight in terms of occupational health and safety has intensified as a result of Lac-Mégantic. It goes beyond the workplace. We see the interplay between our workplaces and the communities we live in. What we need to do on the occasion of April 28, the Day of Mourning, is to fight to make sure that these kinds of events simply do not happen again. Our workplaces extend into our communities. We know that with respect to the rail industry we have an obligation to ensure that our communities are safe and to fight for the public interest.
Railway workers know of this interplay and for us as Canadians it has never been as vividly displayed as with Lac-Mégantic. Everyone of us now is keenly aware that every part of our job potentially has an impact on communities. We want to make sure that we do our job well so that if the workplace is safe, the communities will be safe.
We have to work together. Our safety representatives across the country are aware of that and they have been putting extra emphasis not just on occupational health and safety in the workplace but also in the communities, including the environmental impact. There is no escaping that. We are going to work more and more on that front.
It is vividly clear that we cannot let what would be such a national tragedy happen. We have opportunities to engage Transport Canada and the Minister. It is not really about re-regulating the industry. It is about forcing the railways to live up to the regulations that are in place, including safety maintenance inspections, minimum crew sizes, etc., rather than creating a new regulatory regime where the railways have exemptions and are able to skirt around these regulations. This is designed to make a company more money but we say that it puts the public at risk.
In many situations the regulations are already there but as we emerge from Lac-Mégantic we are seeing some gaps in the regulations and they have been pointed out to Transport Canada. We have to work together to make sure that some of these gaps are plugged. One of the [rail monopolies] is again seeking exemptions from the rules. That gap has not been plugged. No request for exemptions has been approved since Lac-Mégantic and we have to make sure that there are none in the future.
We also have to convert Transport Canada from an observer in this safety management system to an active participant, not just for Lac-Mégantic and all the other communities, but also for the workers. Those regulations are also there to ensure that people who work in the rail industry are safe and protected. Right now Transport Canada is sitting on the sidelines. The railways take care of their own audits and just report the findings to Transport Canada. Every once in a while, Transport Canada likes to report that the safety audits are fine. As the Auditor General recently told the Standing Committee [on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities], Transport Canada is just not equipped to do the safety audits. They are understaffed, they are not getting the audits done but even when they are done, they only tell what has already transpired.
April 28 is about retrenching safety in the industry because the rail industry is a little bit unique. It is not governed within the four walls of a plant. It really does run through our communities.
From the rail industry perspective, there are a number of events going on across the country in remembrance of railway workers who have been killed and maimed on the job. The railways stop operations across the country for two minutes on April 28 at 11:00 am. That has been long entrenched in our relationship with the railways and in some collective agreements. There are also commemorations at locations where tragic incidents have occurred that led to the loss of railway workers' lives.
Quebec construction workers struck June, 2013 against unacceptable employer demands for concessions on
wages and working conditions.
April 28 is the work we do every day on the construction sites. It's the work to continually reduce the dangers and eventually eliminate them, so that workers return home each evening. This is the best way to honour the memory of workers. Year after year, Quebec's construction sector, which represents five per cent of workers, sustains 25 per cent of workplace deaths.
There are tools, techniques and safety equipment available to reduce the dangers on the construction sites, but employers don't buy them for all sorts of reasons. We are left with unsafe work practices while employer's want us to move faster. The work is being done faster -- all kinds of trades working one on top of the other -- because a building must go up as quickly as possible.
Currently we have union health and safety representatives who are responsible for several sites in a region. To move forward, we need tools that are recognized on the work sites. A change that we've been demanding for the past 34 years is that the government enact sections 204 to 215 of the law respecting occupational health and safety relating to the construction industry. This would include having safety representatives -- workers trained by the unions, who are always on the construction site and who enforce prevention -- speak to workers and talk with employers to find safe methods and safety equipment.
The official line is that workers are to practice prevention, identify hazards and report them but when they do employers retaliate. Union health and safety representatives are on the construction sites to protect them. We challenge disciplinary action against the workers. It's difficult to work in that context. Safety representatives would always be practising prevention on the worksite.
The law provides for the right to refuse work when it's dangerous and the employer does nothing to correct the situation. We work to protect workers because, given that there is no seniority in the construction industry, often when workers exercise their right to refuse unsafe work they are laid off within two or three weeks. The law is clear that where a right of refusal is exercised, the worker is assumed to be at the worksite. His obligation is to tell the employer that he is exercising his right of refusal and then remain on the site available to work and the employer's obligation is to pay him. Not long ago at the Montreal University Hospital Centre, 400 workers exercised their right of refusal. One employer had a hundred workers it didn't pay. We were forced to challenge this and it has not yet been settled. That's intimidation by the employers. It's real intimidation and it's not being dealt with. It's intimidation connected to the stand the workers took to safeguard their health and safety.
The previous Liberal government spoke of intimidation in the construction industry and blamed it on the unions. It did nothing about the employers who intimidate workers onsite. The government saw none of this when it passed its law on the construction industry in 2011.
We don't need awareness and promotion, that's all talk. We need action on the worksites. We have governments that lack the political courage to enforce the law. We have to fight to be heard, to be there when there are discussions on prevention. Discussions between the Commission on Workplace Health and Safety (CSST) and employers often happen without the workers or their representatives present.
Governments give the impression that they are listening and that they are aware of the situation on the construction sites when they make their speeches on April 28. Then they do nothing. I call this cowardice.
The unions in the construction industry have always competed with each other. For the health and safety of workers, we have set aside that competition and are working together. We have made compromises in order to have safety representatives onsite. Understandably with five unions on a site we may not be able to have as many safety representatives as there are unions. We are preparing to implement what we are demanding, not just denounce the situation. We're active in finding solutions to the problems of health and safety.
(Translated from original French by TML.)
About 200 workers in Quebec die each year at work. The Health and Safety Act is not fully applied in some so-called priority sectors. Neither the Liberal nor the PQ governments have moved on this for several years and employers have been applying a lot of pressure to make sure that the situation does not change. They don't want joint health and safety committees to be mandatory in all sectors or a review of the regulations on safety representatives. Safety representatives are essential for a real impact. Safety representatives are needed everywhere but only about 15 per cent of workplaces in Quebec have them. The joint health and safety committees are also important, but we don't want joint health and safety committees that are silent. You must have a union that is not afraid to speak.
Where there isn't a union, often the health and safety representatives on the joint health and safety committees are appointed by employers so they're not worth much. In the mining sector, the chances of a fatal or serious accident are much lower in unionized mines than in non-union mines. We can intervene more effectively in unionized mines. At the moment about 45 per cent of mine workers are unionized and 55 per cent are non-union. In Abitibi, the mining companies are interfering and threatening workers who try to unionize the mines. There is a fierce campaign by the mining companies to ensure that workers don't unionize.
An important issue is for the Westray Act [the federal law of March 2004, which amended the Criminal Code to require that any person who manages the organization of work in a workplace take steps to avoid accidents and imposes criminal liability on owners/management for negligence -- TML Ed. Note] to be enforced. Steelworkers were at the heart of the work to pass this legislation and it took us over 10 years to make it happen. The law is good but it takes Crown attorneys to prosecute employers, and they are more than hesitant to do so. Employers evade many of their responsibilities. If the law was enforced and there were criminal prosecutions against employers, employers would have to respect due diligence.
There is a lot of pressure in the mines on the workers. These pressures exist in both non-unionized and unionized mines but if you have a union that is not afraid to defend its members it is much better equipped to intervene. We're never productive enough for the mining companies. The demand is always that the work be done faster. The shareholders of mining companies demand unrealistic targets. The mining companies promise performance bonuses if these targets are met. Work methods are introduced that don't account for safety guidelines. Risks are taken that could lead to collapses and landslides that may have very serious consequences.
They make us compete with mines in other countries where miners are paid less and have lower working conditions. They complain that our cost per ounce is higher. Automation leads to job losses in the mining sector. The emphasis is on technology rather than on the worker. Take, for example, training workers. When a student leaves school with a vocational diploma in mineral extraction, they have 960 class hours but they are not miners. If a mine does not provide training, there will be more serious accidents. The experience and expertise of workers will be lost.
Full implementation of the Health and Safety Act in all sectors, safety representatives in all workplaces and the application of the Westray Act are all important factors that would improve the health and safety of workers.
(Translated from original French by TML.)
On March 31, the Nova Scotia government introduced back-to-work legislation to deny Halifax nurses their right to strike for safe working conditions. Prior to this, the nurses would have been in a legal strike position as of April 3. Labour Minister Kelly Regan, in a statement about the legislation, presented the false dichotomy that the anti-worker legislation was "about striking a balance between ensuring that Nova Scotians have the services when they need them while protecting the workers right to strike." The government's statement covers up that its refusal to provide nurses with proper working conditions is what denies Nova Scotians the care they require.
TML: Your union represents about 30,000 members of whom 2,400 are nurses working for the Capital District Health Authority. For months now you have been waging a struggle to get working conditions that are safe for the nurses and the public. Can you tell us more?
Joan Jessome: Our struggle is about a level of staffing that is safe for the nurses and the patients. We hear story after story from our members who are doing an extraordinary amount of overtime. This is not healthy and the employer often denies them overtime when they are not able to leave on time. They do not get vacation time when requested, they do not have any control over their schedule. The employer is shifting all the schedules around, it is not replacing those who call in sick; the floors and units constantly work short. Often our members are not getting their breaks or lunches. Their health is impacted because they do not get rest times because they do not have a safe level of staffing [for people to be relieved]. So there is a health and safety side to this for this predominantly female workforce.
So the nurses spoke out, including the young nurses who talked about their mental safety because they are being put in positions with responsibilities that they are not trained for. They are scared to death that they might have missed something. Some of them were in very precarious positions because they may not pass probation because of time frames and because they were speaking out which they are not supposed to do according to the employer.
We need to have an adequate staffing for the level of acuity of the patients and the number of patients.
TML: You said many times in the course of this struggle that you tried to negotiate with the employer but it was in vain. Can you tell us more about that?
JJ: The employer did not want us to get involved in helping manage the situation. We do not know if it is the end all and be all but they were not even willing to consider staffing ratios and what they are trying is not working. Even Capital Health themselves reported in the last two years close to 40,000 medical errors up to and including death. In fact the employer tabled concessions to make benefits for new nurses inferior to what is already really there.
TML: Then the provincial government passed a bill that makes it very difficult to go on strike.
JJ: Yes. The Liberal government brought in a piece of legislation called Bill 37. It was tabled on March 31 and became law on April 4. It puts essential services legislation in place. It might take several months to negotiate essential services. The legislation covers 35,000 workers in the province, it is everybody in the health care community.
When the legislation was brought in, the nurses went out because they knew that the legislation was brought in to silence our voices. We went out illegally on April 1 and then we were ordered back to work, and on April 3 we were in a legal position and we went back on strike. We were in a legal strike position for about 30 hours.
That bill did not solve the issues. It was all budget driven, not patient-care driven. The employers did not want to hire more nurses. They knew they did not need to negotiate because they knew that the government would introduce the legislation. They are trying a nurse hunt, not a witch hunt. The employer tried to find out from the nurses who went out, who the ring leaders are. Rather than dealing with the issues that caused the nurses to go out, the government prefers to come back and punish these women.
This is far from being resolved. We are not giving up. We do not want to withdraw our services but we have to get nurse-to-patient ratios that are safe for our nurses and the patients.
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