June 7, 2021 - No. 54

Spirited Programs Mark Ontario Injured Workers' Day 2021

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

I Was a Worker and I Will Not Be Forgotten
Women of Inspiration Hold 16th Annual Vigil

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)

Haut de page

I Was a Worker and I Will Not Be Forgotten

Below is the text of the speech given by Sue James to the Injured Workers' Day Rally. Sue James is the Coordinator of a project, along with General Electric retirees and their families, on the retrospective exposure to toxic chemicals at the GE plant in Peterborough.

This is my accounting but sadly it reflects what many of the clusters across Ontario have lived through and died from throughout the decades.

I was a worker and I will not be forgotten. They cannot take away my memories and all that I witnessed.

I stand outside the factory that was home to me for 40 years and my father before me. Now closed and shuttered after over 125 years. It now stands vacant and is a testament to its toxic legacy. Imprinted in my memories are my colleagues, friends and family members who bore the brunt of multiple carcinogens over a long period of time and have suffered the consequences as have their families. Imprinted in my mind is the acrid smell of welding and the blue smoke that accompanies that process, the pungent odour of PCB's, epoxies, trichloroethylene, PVC's and cured resins hot out of the ovens, rancid metal working fluids, grease, oil and solvents that could make your eyes water or take your breath away. The sounds of overhead cranes with sirens blaring, lift trucks constantly moving, diesel transports running awaiting their loads, grinding metals and the dust floating in the air if the sun could find its way through the grime on the windows.

No protective equipment, no proper ventilation systems. We trusted we would be okay, but sadly this trust has been destroyed and we continue to be betrayed by our former employers and Ontario's compensation system. I was a worker..... We will not be forgotten. No matter the sector you work or worked in we have borne witness to injury and death and watched as employers choose profit over human lives.

An occupational illness is an event or exposure that occurs in the workplace that causes or contributes to a condition or worsens a preexisting condition. Occupational disease claims are grouped into four major categories: long latency illnesses, noise induced hearing loss, chronic exposures and effects, and acute exposures and effects.

It's hard to grasp the true size of the problem, because official statistics count just a fraction of suspected occupational disease cases every year. They are inherently flawed, because they only include accepted disease claims from provincial compensation boards. According to the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada, which collects stats from those boards, occupational disease kills between 500 and 600 Canadians a year.

Many epidemiologists say that's less than ten per cent of the actual death toll.

In January 2020 Dr. Paul Demers completed his report "Using Scientific Evidence and Principles to Help Determine Work-Relatedness of Cancer." In that report he listed several recommendations that address the adjudication of complex claims in the short, medium and long term. To date nothing has changed. Injured workers continue to be caught in a cycle of inaction.

Will we ever break the deadly pattern of studying the issue and responding with platitudes rather than acting upon these recommendations? I am deeply offended by the treatment of workers by the powers that be.

The threads that join us will forever be unbroken, as we are bound together in grief, loss and pain, as were the generations of activists who came before us, the ones of today and the ones who will follow. Righting this ship cannot be a quiet process, so on this June 1, 2021, the day of injured workers, please join together as one voice and refuse to be silenced. Speak out for your right to a fair and just compensation system...Join me in saying...We are mad as hell and we are NOT going to take this anymore! There will be No peace until there is JUSTICE FOR ALL injured workers.

(Photos: WF, CUPW, ONIWG)

Haut de page

Women of Inspiration Hold 16th Annual Vigil

Women of Inspiration participate in International Women's Day march in Toronto in 2018

More than 80 people participated in this year's 16th annual vigil organized by the Women of Inspiration injured workers' support group. It was the second held online due to the pandemic.

In opening the program Maryam Nazemi, one of the vigil's founders, emphasized the critical importance that all workers be covered by Workers Compensation, pointing out that currently in Ontario some 1.7 million workers do not have coverage, leaving them without protection when injured or made ill at work. Many of the workers designated as essential during the pandemic are not covered by WSIB. Why, if they are considered essential, are they not working in healthy and safe workplaces, with proper PPE, testing, paid sick days and time off to get vaccinated, she asked. Maryam has been fighting for the last seventeen years to have a workers' compensation program that covers all workers since herself being injured at a workplace which wasn't covered. 

This demand was further addressed by Cynthia Ireland from CUPE Local 1750, representing WSIB employees. She pointed out that many of those who are not covered are workers in fields such as personal care, who face higher risks of becoming ill at work during the pandemic. She announced that a Universal Coverage campaign will be launched July 29.

Gagandeep Kaur, a CUPW member-organizer in Peel who works with the Warehouse Workers Centre spoke about the work they are doing to organize precariously employed workers to defend their rights under the conditions of the pandemic. While in workplaces like Canada Post workers have the protection of a union, thousands work in similar warehouse settings through temp agencies with no collective defence organizations. Some 45 per cent of Amazon parcels go through the Peel region, she said, and there have been more than 500 workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 in the region. Warehouse workers do not have space to social distance, employers violate safety guidelines and testing has never been easily accessible. Workers only got access to vaccines when they stood together and demanded them. She pointed out that the problems brought to light by the pandemic existed long before it started and concluded that the crisis of the pandemic has brought workers closer and if we stand and organize together we can turn the tide in our favour.

Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates brought greetings to the vigil and emphasized the immediate priority to have all workers in the province covered by a compensation program that takes care of them quickly and fairly. Two of the Women of Inspiration, Heather Cherron and Alicia, rounded out the program with their songs. 

Haut de page

(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)



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