To The Editor,

Each year, on and around April 28th, workers and their families come together at National Day of Mourning ceremonies across Canada, to mourn workers lost to workplace illness and injury.

And each year, Canada records roughly 1,000 workplace deaths. There were over 27,000 accepted claims for time off due to workplace illness or injury in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available.

Let me be clear: these numbers are unacceptable. Yet every year, the number of workers injured, made sick or killed at work increases. For all the advancements we’ve made around occupational health and safety in Canada, somewhere, something is falling short.

Here in Leeds and Grenville counties and Eastern Ontario, we lost several workers in the last year with numerous accepted claims for time lost.

And we all know the story of the 53-year-old Prescott worker killed in a workplace incident in the Port of Johnstown, just this past January. [The death is still under investigation by the Ministry of Labour.]

These workers deserved to go home at the end of their workday. Their families should have been able to hug them as they walked through the door, instead of getting the call no one ever wants to get, and hearing that their loved one wouldn’t be coming home.

We know that workplace incident investigations are still not treated with necessary urgency or importance. Canada’s unions have long called for all cases of workplace death to be investigated as criminal, until it can be determined without a doubt that there was no wrongdoing. We will keep pushing for workplace incidents causing serious injury or death to be investigated for possible negligence, to ensure those responsible are held accountable.

However, Canada’s unions also want to ensure that workers are supported and feel empowered to stand up for their health and safety rights at work. We want to ensure that workers are equipped with the proper knowledge and tools to safely do their jobs and to call out infractions when they see them. The most powerful tool to make work safer is a health and safety committee with educated and empowered workers protecting their fellow workers and holding employers to account. Employers must resource and respect these committees.

Workers should never be in a position where they feel the need to perform unsafe work or risk losing their jobs. Occupational health and safety is a collective responsibility and Canada’s unions are committed to standing behind workers in knowing their rights, using the tools and defending our hard fought health and safety wins.

We will continue to educate and empower workers to stand up to employers who would risk workplace safety in order to cut corners and save a few dollars. We will honour those who died or were injured at work by defending our rights and fighting for the living.

Members of the communities within Leeds and Grenville are invited to join their local Day of Mourning Ceremony on Saturday, 29th April 2023, at 11:00 AM, at the Brockville Museum.

James Roy