April 28th ceremony goes online
United with more than 100 countries marking the National Day of Mourning on Wednesday, April 28, Canada is finding ways to bring people together safely in the time of pandemic to remember those who have lost their lives or suffered injury or illness on the job.
The Windsor and District Labour Council committee in charge of organizing the local National Day of Mourning observance met the same challenge under COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 by quickly launching the event online.
Respecting stay-at-home orders, organizers are inviting everyone to this year's virtual Day of Mourning commemoration at 12 noon at windsorlabour.ca and facebook.com/windsordistrictlc.
“There will be video submissions from surviving family members of workers who lost their lives in service to their employers, as well as speakers ranging from youth through to retirement, including first responders, migrant workers and essential workers. The human cost of COVID-19, in short,” says Mike Jee, the local Day of Mourning committee chair who is also Unifor Local 195's health and safety chair.
Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act's general duties clause, employers must “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”
“As labour advocates, it important for us to lead by example,” Jee says. “Going virtual eliminates the risk at the source. We are trying to preserve as much of the commemoration's traditional feeling as we can. The comfort, consoling and group healing is a challenge, though.”
Recognizing that going online increases accessibility for everybody, Jee hopes to do a hybrid event in 2022, with virtual video content and livestreaming of people congregating in person per usual at St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church and at the Injured Workers Monument in Coventry Gardens.
Wherever they are on April 28, it is important for people to pause and reflect on the workers and their loved ones who have been adversely impacted as a consequence of employment.
Approximately 1,000 Canadian workers and more than 2.7 million workers globally die each year because of something that happens at work, according to the Canadian Labour Congress. In 2019, there were 925 accepted workplace fatalities and 271,806 accepted lost time claims in Canada.
“It is our duty as workers to show respect, console and grieve with the surviving family members and coworkers of workplace fatality. The Day of Mourning is a time to commit or recommit to demanding safe work in our workplaces,” Jee says.
“The observance also brings us together to understand the challenges faced in different sectors, some similar, some unique, but all equally important.”
Since the Occupational Health and Safety Act was enacted in 1979, “not because there was a sudden softening from industry or government on the plight of the workers, but because workers demanded and fought for minimum standards,” Jee notes, “we have been constantly fighting for improvements as we discover connections between illness and the workplace.”
“We must use our rights to the fullest. We have the right to know, the right to participate and the right to refuse work that we feel is unsafe. We must continue to demand higher standards and enforcement with accountability,” he says.
“None of us can never forget that workers have died for us to be safe.”