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June 1: a day to fight for injured workers

Workers' comp is a right! Injured Workers' Day Rally and March, June 1, at Queen's Park

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas released the following statement today to mark Injured Workers Day in Ontario.

June 1 marks Injured Workers Day in Ontario, a date set aside each year to defend the interests of tens of thousands of workers in our province who are injured on the job.

We observe this day to recommit ourselves to strengthening workplace health and safety laws; to demand that governments punish employers who neglect the well-being of their employees; and to push for change at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board so that compensation for injured workers takes priority over premium cuts for employers.

Building safe workplaces is a never-ending struggle – partly because employers will always try to cut costs, and partly because our understanding of workplace safety changes with the times. Workers have always faced, to varying degrees, the risk of physical harm at work. But in recent decades, workplace activists have drawn attention to the insidious effects of workplace bullying, intimidation, and harassment, including sexual harassment. I am proud to say that OPSEU played a leadership role in winning amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to include protections against these hazards under the law.

Changing laws is one thing; enforcing them is another. And OPSEU members are leaders when it comes to making laws work for workers. Not only do we stand up for our own members in our own workplaces; our union also represents occupational health and safety inspectors in the Ministry of Labour who enforce health and safety laws for all Ontario workers.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t doing everything it can to support these OPSEU members. The number of health and safety inspectors – currently about 400 – has remained virtually unchanged since 2004 despite a growing economy and a significantly larger workforce. And last year, the province changed the OHSA to allow certain employers to avoid proactive health and safety inspections altogether.

Our union spoke out against those changes, and we speak out every day, in the workplace and beyond, to improve protections and prevent injuries.

We are also building our members’ capacity to keep their own workplaces safe. Health and safety training is a regular component of OPSEU educationals, and supported by our Executive Board, OPSEU members in our Mental Health Division are now into the second year of a long-term campaign to permanently improve conditions in mental health facilities.

As trade unionists, we’re committed to working on all fronts to make all Ontario workers safe. Take the plight of farm workers, for example. Studies show that farm workers report higher incidents of fatalities and injuries on the job than almost any other occupational sector. According to 2016 data compiled by the Canadian Agriculture Injury Reporting organization, almost two farm workers are killed on the job each week in Canada and untold thousands of others are injured annually.

That’s why it was disappointing to see that the provincial government ignored the recommendation of its own Changing Workplaces Review to allow agriculture and horticultural workers to unionize. Organized labour occupies the front line when it comes to strengthening workplace health and safety, yet in an industry that is so prone to injuries and fatalities, we are still legally barred from helping to protect farm workers.

On the occasion of Injured Workers Day in Ontario, organized labour can take credit for its role in building safer and healthier workplaces for everyone, unionized or not. But our fight is far from finished – not when almost a quarter million Canadians are injured on the job each year. Today, let’s pledge to redouble our efforts to dramatically cut that number.