This Monday, April 28, is the labour movement’s most solemn day. Thousands of workers, friends and families of those killed and injured on the job will gather at ceremonies across Ontario to pay tribute to fallen workers and to renew our call to “Fight for the Living.”
In the last 25 days alone, as we close in on April 28th, three more workers have died: one at Vale’s Copper Cliff smelter in Sudbury, one at a construction site in Ottawa and one at a plastics plant in Vaughan.
The Workplace Safety & Insurance Board’s (WSIB) just-released statistics tell us that 243 workers died in 2013 and there were 232,249 reported injuries. The official death toll now stands at 10,384 since 1979 when Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act began reporting. But those numbers bear little in common with the actual figures because they do not include the thousands of injuries, illnesses and deaths that go unreported every year.
It is a catastrophe.
For decades, unions and our members have made the fight for safe workplaces for everyone priority work. We have pushed, pulled, lobbied, held work stoppages, mass mobilized and taken every measure possible to demand change from reluctant governments. But legislation and regulatory changes to fix what is wrong never come fast enough; and action is always half-hearted and never fully tackles the problem.
“We are always fighting against the mindset of employers and their friends in governments that profits are more important than workers’ lives and health. It’s a centuries’-old battle,” said OFL President Sid Ryan. “But employers had better duck for cover if they think we won’t expose each and every one of them that threatens the life or health of a worker. The pace is too slow and the casualties are too high.”
“Studies, reports, reviews, inquiries, inquests’ findings, and commissions all point to real solutions and the action necessary. It’s critical for the government to stop listening to the voices of denial and start taking real action,” says OFL Secretary Treasurer Nancy Hutchison. “We all know what the solutions are. Our message today: ‘Stop ignoring them.’ ”
First, a change in approach to workplace hazards that embraces what is known as the “Precautionary Principle” is long overdue. It asserts that it is better to be safe than sorry. It was the very first recommendation from the final report of the SARS Commission that said “action to reduce risk need not await scientific certainty.” There was urgency to the recommendation that the approach be adopted as a “guiding principle.” It has not.
Second, Ontario’s unwillingness to investigate and bring charges under the Criminal Code of Canada section known as the Westray amendments, which holds employers criminally liable when their negligence causes the death or serious injury of employees, is unacceptable. Like the Precautionary Principle, its use would significantly curb deaths and injuries. The OFL’s Kill a Worker, Go to Jail campaign has kept this issue front and centre since 2009, when four Metron construction workers fell to their deaths and a fifth suffered serious injuries.
Unless employers are held personally liable, they will continue to put profit ahead of the lives of their workers and the carnage will continue. This is the strongest deterrent we have. It is already the law. But the criminal justice system continues to fail victims and survivors.
Workplaces are safer now because of us. Unions and their members and allies have fought decade after decade for progress. Neither employers nor governments have “given” us anything; we have had to take it inch-by-inch.
As we gather this year to mourn the millions of dead and injured workers, let’s remember what our collective action can accomplish and rededicate ourselves to it.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Sid Ryan, OFL President: 416-209-0066 or @SidRyan_OFL
Nancy Hutchison, OFL Secretary-Treasurer: 647-403-9799
Lynn Simmons, Communications Director (Acting): 416-578-3230
Download Statement Day of Mourning (PDF)