On behalf of the Executive Board, we are honoured to pay tribute to the thousands of Ontario workers – and workers everywhere – who have been injured or lost their lives on the job.
This April 28 will be the 28th time Canadians have officially observed the National Day of Mourning. Since 1991, the National Day of Mourning has spread from Canada to some 100 countries – something we can be very proud of.
The day pays tribute to workers who have been killed or injured on the job, become disabled or suffered illness owing to workplace-related incidents and hazards. Events commemorating the day will be held across Ontario.
In particular, of course, we mourn OPSEU members and all workers who have been touched by tragedy over the last year. We also can’t forget the thousands of Ontario workers who preceded them over the years. And while the commemoration has spread, much remains to be done, both here and abroad.
In Ontario, there are two particularly problematic areas: occupational disease and mental health injuries.
It often takes decades to develop diseases from some workplace exposures. People are working and living their lives now without knowing that a toxic time bomb is set to go off in their own bodies in a decade or two as a result of their workplace exposures. Work shouldn’t be deadly or toxic—but it can be. Some OPSEU members are particularly at risk ¬- one example is our firefighters with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
This year, OPSEU is drawing special attention to mental health injuries. Because an injury can’t be seen doesn’t mean it can’t exist – or can’t be terribly debilitating. Any member may suffer a mental health injury, but first responders, including correctional officers, paramedics and hospital professionals, can be especially susceptible.
Provincial legislation and the policies of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board must acknowledge their existence and provide for appropriate compensation. OPSEU’s Disability Rights Caucus has posted a powerful statement on this vital step on the path to fully protecting workers.
The provincial government needs to enforce existing health and safety laws more vigorously and enact new laws that ensure negligent employers pay the full cost of their negligence. For example, last December, we were able to stop the government from allowing ministry officials to block health and safety inspectors from doing their important work.
No statement on the National Day of Mourning would be complete without mentioning the vital work of our dedicated health-and-safety activists in every local across the union. We can’t put a number on the lives they’ve saved or the suffering they’ve prevented. But we do know these activists are heroes, and we owe them a large debt of gratitude.
OPSEU is the union for changing workplaces, and as our workplaces continue to change, the struggle for workplace safety will continue to grow. Putting an end to workplace injury, and death and disease may seem like a fond hope to many. But at OPSEU, we believe it’s a noble ambition. And we won’t rest until we reach it.
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas
First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida