By Aly Beach/The Oshawa Express
On April 28, people packed into the The Oshawa Steel Workers’ Hall for the Day of Mourning to honour workers killed on the job and to fight for workers’ rights.
Union members, council members, MPPs, general public and workers and their families gathered to honour the 227 workplace deaths in Ontario in 2017. While the Day of Mourning is meant to honour fallen workers, the day signals what changes need to be made to protect workers from future deaths and workplace injuries and diseases.
“We come together (at) this time every year to mourn for those who have lost their lives in workplace accidents or occupational disease, but also to remember those that we’re going to continue to fight (for), we’re going to continue to fight for the living because we have a lot of work to do,” says Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley.
The ceremony also mourned the victims of the deadly van attack in Toronto on April 23. Two CUPE Ontario workers were seriously injured and one was killed in the attack.
Calls of “kill a worker, go to jail” were repeated throughout the ceremony, a phrase coined by the late Oshawa labour leader Jim Freeman, who passed away in 2016.
“All employers who put their workers in jeopardy, have to be held responsible. Employers of workers who die on the job have to be held responsible. And it’s very simple; kill a worker, go to jail,” said Oshawa MPP Jennifer French.
According the Buckley, the ‘kill a worker, go to jail’ mentality has started to create actions, as one supervisor from Metron, a construction company working in Toronto, was sentenced to three and a half years in jail, after making what Buckley describes as a “terrible decision,” that lead to four workings falling to their deaths in December 2009. The supervisor was informed of a numerous safety hazards such as no posted weight limit and only one harness on a swing stage that was on the 19th floor of an apartment building.
Seven workers, including the supervisor were on thirteenth floor when the swing broke in half. One member was safe as they were wearing the single harness, the supervisor swung himself to safety on a balcony. Five workers fell, four died and one has permanent injuries.
“He made a terrible decision that day because of the all mighty dollar. Folks, no pay cheque is worth somebody’s life and we have to pound that into everybody’s head,” Buckley says.
The supervisor tried to appeal his sentence in January, but a judge ruled against it.
“Employers need to understand, it’s a right in the province of Ontario for safe work, and if you do kill a worker, the Metron decision will dictate you’re going to jail. And I hope that decision sends shivers up the spines of every employer in the province of Ontario,” Buckley says.
In 2017, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board statistics show there were 227 workplace deaths. Of those 227, 81 were workplace fatalities and 146 died from occupational disease. 240,000 workers were injured on the job in province in 2017.
“The stats are out this year and they’re alarming. They’re alarming because we do so much work, but people really aren’t listening,” Buckley says.
“Workplace safety doesn’t just affect workers and their families, it effects everyone in the province,” French says.
The WSIB system was criticised as “not meeting the basic dignity needs and compensation needs of workers,” according to French. City of Oshawa Mayor John Henry agreed.
“An injured worker is an injured worker and they need to be treated with the respect that they deserve,” he said.