Spirited Programs Mark Ontario Injured Workers' Day 2021

Join Together As One Voice with Injured Workers and Refuse to Be Silenced!

The Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG) organized two well-attended online events on Ontario Injured Workers' Day to celebrate their work and collective strength in fighting for the rights of injured workers. A vigil was organized by the Women of Inspiration on the eve of Injured Workers' Day and a rally on June 1. This year marks 38 years since the first Injured Workers' Day in 1983, when 3,000 injured workers and their allies gathered at Queen's Park to make their demands known to a public inquiry into the compensation system.

For a second year injured workers were forced to meet online by a pandemic which has brought to the fore the importance to the entire society of the fight for safe working conditions for all workers, and for full and timely compensation for all who are injured or become ill due to their work.

The Injured Workers' Day online rally June 1 was attended by more than 176 registered participants, while others joined on Facebook live. Participants came from many parts of Ontario and some joined from other provinces and from as far away as Australia.

As part of the day's activities, prior to the rally injured workers visited the offices of more than 40 MPPs, postering their doors and windows with the demands of injured workers for full and just compensation when injured or made ill at work. A slideshow of the visits was shown at the rally. The program was enlivened by a rousing song from Heather Cherron, "Extra, Extra," dealing with the situation of casual workers, a video produced for the 2020 Injured Workers' Day entitled "Normal Is Not Good Enough" and messages of solidarity from workers in Australia marking their second Injured Workers' Day.

Injured workers visit MPPs offices in Mississauga Centre (left) and Thunder Bay

ONIWG President Janet Paterson acted as the MC. In opening the program she pointed out that injured workers have no interest in returning to the "business as usual" that existed before the pandemic as neither the government nor WSIB has fulfilled their responsibility to take care of workers who were injured or made ill on the job and this situation must change. The past year of the pandemic has created a situation where workers in many sectors have faced the possibility of becoming ill at work, not with an occupational disease which would take many years to manifest itself, but as an immediate danger. This brought to the fore for the whole society the need for all workers to be covered by WSIB, for workers to exercise their right to refuse unsafe working conditions, the need for paid sick days, and that migrant workers must not be forgotten but must have access to the same benefits as other workers and to proper living conditions.

Merv King, Coordinator of the United Steelworkers Injured Workers Program and a member of Timiskaming First Nation in his land acknowledgement called on people to reflect on who are the keepers of the lands on which they stand. The fight of the Indigenous peoples and of injured workers are both for dignity and for justice. He called for a minute of silence in honour of the 215 children whose unmarked burial site was found on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential school.

It is customary for a light to be passed to the Injured Workers’ Day rally from the vigil held by the Women of Inspiration the night before and this was done, symbolically, by Maryam Nazemi. She said that one of the things which workers have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance that all workers be protected, starting with being covered by the workers compensation system which is not currently the case. Workers have a right to healthy and safe working conditions and to leave work each day with the same health as when they arrived, she concluded.

The president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Patty Coates, brought greetings to the rally. She pointed out that the injured workers movement has strengthened itself and grown despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic. Sue James from the Peterborough General Electric Retirees spoke on the question of the fight for the rights of workers who have been made ill at work. (See below for her presentation).

A portion of the rally, introduced by Sang-Hun Mun of  Injured Workers Action for Justice, was dedicated to the fight of migrant workers to defend their rights, in particular in the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirteen migrant workers have died in Ontario since the beginning of the pandemic, he pointed out, and the minimum that is required to defend their right to health and safety at work is permanent status. He brought a message from one of the farmworkers who had been injured in Hamstead Heath in a 2012 van accident that killed ten migrant workers and injured another three as they returned from work. A second migrant worker who works at a chicken catcher described the difficult working conditions faced by migrant agricultural workers -- including travelling to work crowded 13 to 16 in a truck -- which had led to him contracting COVID-19 twice within a four-month period. He emphasized that the first requirement for migrant workers to be able to defend their rights was permanent resident status. As permanent residents, he said, they could demand benefits and rights in line with those of Canadian workers without facing immediate deportation for speaking out.

Two nurses addressed the rally, Angela Precanin from the Ontario Nurses Association and Carolina Jiminez from the Decent Health and Work Network. Angela spoke out about the thousands of health care workers infected unnecessarily with COVID-19 due to the lack of PPE and proper cohorting. Carolina called out the Ford government for its negligent refusal to institute a minimum of 10 paid sick days with an additional 14 during a health emergency, pointing out that even the paltry three days the government has now instituted only apply to the period of the pandemic.

Injured workers visit offices of MPPs for Spadina-Fort York (left) and Dufferin-Caledon

The final speaker, Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, brought the rally to an energetic conclusion. He spoke about the difficult situation his members, many of whom are in health care, had faced over the past year, with at least a dozen having died of COVID-19. Most of those who died were black or racialized workers, he stated. The pandemic has changed our tolerance of racism and our demands for the future and shown that we are all connected, he said, and when working people realize there are far more of us than there are of them and put aside what is used to divide us there will be no stopping us. Speaking of the WSIB he said that it must be reclaimed and re-made as a compensation system, not as an insurance system. This requires first to turf out the present Ontario government next year but at the same time not to assume the Liberals will solve the problems, which they had 15 years in office to do, or that the NDP is the end all and be all. It will be the activism of injured workers and everyone organizing together that can bring about real change. Honour and mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living!

(Photos: WF, ONIWG)

This article was published in

June 7, 2021 - No. 54

Article Link:


Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  editor@cpcml.ca