‘We have to do better’: NOTL workers remembered during National Day of Mourning service
For 39 years, Joel Murray was a husband, father of two and hockey coach in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Today, Murray’s life is commemorated with a monument outside Centennial Arena, erected in 1988 after he was killed in an accident while working at General Motors of Canada.
A small crowd gathered outside this monument in Virgil Friday morning, for a ceremony on the National Day of Mourning.
Every year, on April 28, Canadians honour workers like Murray who died, were injured or became ill while on the job.
“Every worker should come home safely,” LouAnn Binning from the Niagara Regional Labour Council told the crowd of about 25 people.
Murray’s wife, Wendy Murray Nicholson, stood with Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa and MPP Wayne Gates during the service.
“This monument, although we’re here to recognize workplace hazards and what’s going on across the province, was put here to remember Joel,” said Gates.
The Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canadareported 72,921 lost time claims and 449 fatalities in Ontario in 2021.
In 2020, there were 328 fatalities and 60,248 lost time claims.
After Murray’s accident, General Motors was found guilty of violating workplace safety rules and was fined $350,000 by The Ontario Ministry of Labour for his death.
Gates said General Motors was just fined $325,000 for the death of another St. Catharines worker named Daniel Sevcik who died in 2021.
The MPP worked at General Motors in the past, but he said he’s not picking on the company in particular.
Rather, he said, it’s a situation happening at workplaces across Ontario and the country.
“It’s got to stop,” he said.
“I owe a corporation a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. I do not owe my life.”
Gates and farmworker advocate Kit Andres brought up the case of Jeleel Stewart, a former seasonal farmworker, and the practice of deeming.
“Deeming is one of the worst things that have ever happened in the province of Ontario,” said Gates.
According to Injured Workers Online, deeming is when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board says an injured worker is able to do another job and then cuts all benefits.
Stewart was injured at Mori Nurseries in 2008 after a forklift crushed his left hand. He never received full compensation for his injury and to this day cannot work.
After receiving benefits between 2008 and 2010, WSIB wrote to Stewart and deemed him fit to work at a gas station in Niagara even though he lived in Jamaica.
The Lake Report has obtained a copy of the letter sent to Stewart.
“Jeleel is in the hospital right now. We don’t know how long he has to live,” said Andres.
“That’s a result of his injury.”
Andres said migrant workers travel to Canada each year to work “with no guarantee that they’ll return at the end of the season.”
In December, Gates reintroduced a bill in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to combat deeming, previously introduced in 2019.
The bill would amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act so the WSIB would not determine earnings based on employment a worker doesn’t have.
The bill passed first reading in the legislature.
After learning about deeming and what happened to Joel Murray, Zalepa was speechless.
“I’m quite shocked to hear what I’ve heard today. So I’m trying to process that,” he said.
He said he’ll be raising more awareness about workplace safety with council.
Both CUPE Local 150 executive Ron Hughes and Binning said education is key.
Binning said it’s important to get “the word out that we need safe workplaces and pushing for employers to make them safe for us.”
Murray Nicholson said she was happy to see everyone at the service raising awareness.
“No worker should ever go to work and not return home to his family,” said Gates.
“We have to do better.”
Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report