If there is ever a time that the need for strong unions is clear, it is when we pause to mourn workers killed or injured on the job. The past year saw several high-profile workplace deaths caused by lack of attention to workplace health and safety, and often caused by employers pushing workers in precarious positions into dangerous situations.
On April 28, the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, we will all pause to mourn these losses and renew our commitment to ensuring an end to such tragedies.
The real tragedy is that workplace deaths continue all too frequently in Canada and governments are not helping to prevent them. Labour groups campaigned for years to get laws in place that hold corporate leaders responsible and send them to jail for creating workplace conditions that lead to worker deaths and injuries. This year was the first time a manager was handed a prison sentence for negligence leading to a workplace death. Every boss who endangers workers should face prison time. Kill a worker, go to jail. It should be as straightforward as that. Then employers might take their responsibilities seriously.
In the last year, we lost three CUPE Ontario members. William Gordon Miller, a CUPE 4705 member, lost consciousness while driving an emergency response vehicle and passed away in hospital. School custodians Venaciao Perez of CUPE 1483 and Paul Barao of CUPE 2544 both died from heart attacks while working alone. Our thoughts are with their families and friends this Day of Mourning.
The reality is, more and more workers are being pushed into unsafe working conditions, and thanks to government austerity, more and more people are being forced to work alone. Working alone means there is no one there to administer CPR, no one to help if an accident happens, no one there if there is an incident of workplace violence. Let’s be clear: Government austerity and privatization are putting more and more workers’ lives at risk.
Privatization means profits are put before worker safety and, as members of Ontario’s largest union, we must all fight together to stop that agenda before more workers become victims of corner-cutting bosses and politicians.
On this Day of Mourning, as we pause together to remember William Gordon Miller, Venaciao Perez and Paul Barao, and other workers who have been killed, injured or made sick because of their jobs, let’s redouble our efforts to use the Health and Safety law to its fullest power. Every worker has the right to refuse unsafe work. Together, we must make sure every worker knows they have this right and that they exercise that right. By refusing unsafe work, we make workplace health and safety a priority and make employers take their responsibilities seriously.