April 28th is the National Day of Mourning, a day to reflect upon and commemorate the many Canadian workers who have lost their lives or suffered an injury while on the job. Last evening, a group of about thirty people met outside of North Bay’s City Hall to pay their respects and show solidarity for the cause.
See: Today marks National Day of Mourning for workers killed on the job
“We mourn for the dead and fight for the living,” said Henri Giroux, the president of the North Bay and District Labour Council. Giroux told the story of his brother, Armand, who died on the job in 1982. Armand was 36 years old, and for Giroux and his family, the Day of Mourning brings those memories back in full relief. “We must do everything to try to make the workplace better.”
Peter Page and Carl Crevar, both from the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Group, concurred. “We’ve heard many stories like yours,” Page said, a story nobody wants to hear. “Call on our government,” he urged, “to enact regulations that make sure we have stronger safety measures to prevent those tragedies from happening again.”
“No one goes to work wanting to become injured,” he said, but those injuries occur, around “200,000 claims per year” are submitted by injured workers, added Crevar.
“Workers are the ones who create the wealth,” Page continued, “and they should not be forgotten or thrown upon the scrapheap of life simply because they suffered a workplace injury.” Those injured and those who have lost someone because of a workplace death should “get the justice they deserve.”
There were signs at the gathering reading “kill a worker, go to jail,” but that rarely happens, Crevar said. “Kill a worker go to jail, what does that mean?” he asked. “The words are nice, but that’s all they are.” He explained that from his knowledge—he helped form the Injured Workers Group and has been advocating for 30 years— “I believe there has only been one” person sentenced to jail as a result of a workplace fatality.
“They have to pay a price,” he said. “The families continue to suffer, and they do.”
See: For Labour Council, May Day can’t come soon enough
Crevar told those gathered that “65 per cent of people with permanent impairments are living at or below the poverty level,” a number he wants to change. “You’re going to be hearing from us,” Crevar said to all the provincial candidates. Erika Lougheed, the NDP provincial candidate for the Nipissing riding was there, and Crevar pointed her way for emphasis. “We are demanding change, not asking anymore, we’ve been asking for thirty years, you have the ability to make change” he said to all the candidates.
After the speeches, the two minutes of silence to reflect upon the deceased, and a solemn song from bagpiper Matt Plant, Lougheed explained that “improving working conditions” is a “fundamental” root of the NDP party. “We need to improve peoples lives and prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.”
Paid sick days, improved working conditions, more full-time hours and better wages would help ensure safer environments, Lougheed noted. Covid-19 reminded a lot of people about the importance of workplace safety, and if workers can “make ends meet then people don’t have to make these horrible decisions between putting food on the table, paying their rent, or going to work sick.”
“We need to do everything in our power,” to improve conditions, “and we are not doing enough to make that happen right now.” The goal is to “make sure we’re not pushing people into poverty,” Lougheed said.
“There’s so much work to be done,” North Bay city councillor Scott Robertson said. “This is an issue that we need to start paying more attention to, I think we’ve gotten a little complacent when it comes to worker’s rights and when it comes to workers fighting for our rights.”
“Many people are vulnerable” to poor working conditions he said, a point emphasized by Chaplin Tracey Davis, from St. Andrews United Church. She offered a prayer to open the ceremony, “for those whose labour is forced, without rest, or freedom or dignity,” or for those who are prevented from work due to a “disability, whether of body or mind, or by society because of colour or creed.”
“You go to work to provide for your family,” Crevar emphasized, “not to get killed or injured.”
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca