On April 28, as we remember workers who have been killed or injured on the job, we must also remember to keep up the fight for the living. Tragically, work-related deaths and accidents remain a terrible reality. Over the past two decades more than 15,000 people have lost their lives to work related accidents, and tens of thousands more have been injured and disabled.
Why is it that in a wealthy, modern country almost three workers die every day from job-related accidents or illness? Governments and companies say that workplace health-and-safety is important, but the reality is they only act when they are forced to. Two years ago, after four temporary foreign workers in Toronto fell to their death from a scaffold on Christmas Eve, the Ontario government commissioned a special inquiry into that accident and the broader question of workplace safety.
There were many recommendations, including enhancing workplace inspections and obliging employers to step up their safety training programs. But those recommendations did nothing for two foreign workers from Jamaica who died just a few months later in Ontario after being overcome by fumes in an enclosed vat. In fact those workers weren’t even covered by regulations regarding enclosed spaces because health and safety coverage for Ontario agriculture workers still lacks specific regulations.
In Alberta, the death of agriculture workers is also still too often a tragic occurrence, but not enough to move the Alberta government to provide farm workers coverage under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
So why is it that workplace deaths and accidents remain so prevalent? In part, because some governments simply don’t care and just look at it as the cost of doing business. Unfortunately that terrible cost is borne by workers and their families. Another reason? Non-union workplaces, where workers are not informed of their health and safety rights, or if they are, keep silent for fear of reprisal. This includes hundreds of thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers that the Harper government brings to Canada and then drops off to fend for themselves.
So we must remain vigilant that health-and-safety legislation is comprehensive, applied to all, and is monitored and enforced. We at UFCW Canada will continue to fight to ensure that all workers – not just our members – have the right to a healthy and safe working environment. We will continue to develop and deliver education programs, and lobby for legislation to protect workers who are not covered by current health-and-safety laws.
And we will remember that even one workplace death or accident is one too many.
– Wayne Hanley, National President, UFCW