In the News April 28
April 28 Day of Mourning
Step Up the Fight for the Right to Safe and Healthy
Working Conditions for All!
The Day of Mourning is being held once again this year to commemorate those workers who have been killed on the job and to demand that those who have been injured or who have fallen ill due to workplace-related hazards and conditions get compensation and treatment befitting human beings at standards agreed upon by the working class. On this occasion, Workers’Forum joins the workers across the land to mourn the loss of all those who have passed away as a result of COVID-19 or any illness or injury sustained at work.
This year’s theme is “Work Shouldn’t Hurt: Choosing Health and Safety as a Fundamental Right and Principle at Work”. This year, many ceremonies are being held with people physically present, a first in two years.
This Day of Mourning is being marked in the most difficult conditions. Health care workers are reporting that although most provinces and Quebec are rolling back public health measures, workers still require and are fighting for health measures that keep them safe at work, as the pandemic is far from over. Workers continue to push for measures that prevent exposure to COVID-19. These include increased ventilation, adequate personal protective equipment and sufficient sick leave for workers to recover from all illnesses. Governments are making the situation even more difficult by maintaining emergency measures according to which the negotiated working conditions of health care and social services workers can be declared null and void and changed at will. Nobody is safe if workers, who are looking after the people, are prevented from using their voices and having a decisive say on how healthy and safe conditions for themselves and the public must be provided.
A very big problem reported country-wide is the huge discrepancy between the official number of work-related deaths and illnesses and the actual count. The official count number covers occurrences recognized by compensation boards, such as Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). In Ontario, the Workers’ Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) which does a lot of research and trains workplace representatives, writes that while the official WSIB-recognized worker death claims for 2020 is 324, its own estimate is over 3,240. In terms of injury and illness claims, while the WSIB officially reports that there have been 153,193, the Centre’s estimate is 310,000. It also reports that most deaths and many injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to work-related hazards are never reported to, or recognized by the WSIB. The same applies to COVID-19 infections and deaths, as well as mental health problems, which have skyrocketed over the years, as a result of the failure by governments and big business interests to care for the human factor at work. This is especially the case under pandemic conditions.
Fatalities reported by Canadian compensation boards on a yearly basis stand at around 1,000 cases, while according to researchers at the University of Ottawa, the number is between 9,800 and 13,200.
This most disturbing phenomenon is not only reported by researchers and institutions such as the WHSC, but by the workers themselves as a problem they face on a daily basis. It is related on the one hand to the huge increase in casual and part-time workers, of workers employed under precarious conditions with no job security, and on the other through the hiring of migrant workers, including temporary foreign workers, undocumented workers and so on. Big business considers this workforce disposable and for these workers, reporting injuries may lead to dismissal. Pressure is exercised on them to work while sick, or simply leave and be replaced by another disposable worker.
Far from providing these workers with protection, many governments are shamelessly passing legislation and regulations that consider health and safety an undesirable cost for big employers, which must be tamed and reduced. Such is the law passed by the Quebec government in October of last year, whose stated aim is to “save” $4 billion for employers over the next 10 years. The legislation gives extended regulatory power to Quebec’s compensation board to remove illnesses from those recognized as work-related and deserving compensation and treatment paid by employers. It includes regulations that provide for a quicker return to work despite the advice of the treating physician.
Alberta passed similar legislation that took effect in 2021, which openly decrees that those it refers to as the “job creators”, big business, are to be the decision-makers in health and safety procedures, including in health and safety committees. Alberta’s new Occupational Health and Safety Act decrees what it considers to be a potentially serious incident that needs to be reported. It states: “The incident had a likelihood of causing a serious injury or illness. There is reasonable cause to believe that corrective action may need to be taken to prevent recurrence.” Then, it goes so far as saying: “Immediate reporting of potentially serious incidents is no longer required. Potentially serious incident reports will be used for information and education purposes, and won’t result in remedial inspection in most cases.”
Workers are facing the fact that governments are using the urgency of either the pandemic or what is referred to as the post-pandemic recovery to dismantle existing occupational health and safety regimes. They have concentrated more arbitrary police powers into the hands of government ministers to make and break regulations, as well as strengthen rule by degree. The ensuing incoherence and crisis of confidence in government causes widespread insecurity and harm to the population’s psychological well-being and to the fabric of the society itself. The aim of the rich and their governments is not to protect the population, but to concentrate even more power in their own hands under the wretched belief that this enhances their competitive edge.
This year, significant advances have been made by injured workers in building their organizations in unity with unions and other workers’ organizations and by the movement taking up the fight against mistreatment of immigrant and migrant workers on farms and in industry. Government measures to deny injured workers their rights, to change legislation to weaken standards and absolve employers and governments of responsibility for rehabilitation and care for injured workers have all met with spirited resistance which is ongoing. This past year, for example, the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance was established by Ontario workers and families who are suffering from or have died from occupational diseases, bringing together several advocacy organizations which speak with one powerful voice. Workers’ Forum congratulates Ontario’s injured workers’ associations for their participation in the May Day actions raising such demands as “Workers’ Compensation is a Right” for all workers injured or made ill on the job.
Workers are taking action to find ways to express and affirm the right of all Canadian working people to healthy and safe working conditions and to adequate compensation when they are injured or made ill at work, as well as to collectively establish working conditions that are safe, both for their own well-being as well as that of the entire society.
To contribute to this work, Workers’ Forum will continue doing its part by publishing your interviews and contributions on this important fight for the rights and the lives of all. Let us all speak out in defence of the right of all workers to healthy and safe working conditions and for workers to have the decisive say on what those conditions are. Let us all affirm our right to speak out on matters of concern and on making working conditions a matter of public knowledge. Informing workers on what is going on in sectors other than their own will help in terms of mobilizing and in discussing where the fight for rights is headed. Together it is possible to assess the conditions and the work being done to change the situation in a manner that favours the workers.
Workers’ Forum, posted April 28, 2022.