The National Day of Mourning, held annually on April 28th, was officially recognized by the federal government in 1991, eight years after the day of remembrance was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), and has since spread to at least 80 countries around the world. This day is a tribute to those men and women who have died as a result of a workplace illness or accident.
The IBEW was originally formed by workers who wanted to improve safety in their workplace. Our union was formed on the need for safety at a time when 1 in 2 electrical workers were being killed on the job every day; even our own founding President Henry Miller died from a workplace incident. Today, safety continues to be a main focus of our Local Unions mandate; safety is paramount to the IBEW!
With respect to this year’s National Day of Mourning, the theme on April 28th is “The Human Cost of COVID-19”. Right now, millions of workers who have been deemed essential are risking their wellbeing every day and are working tirelessly to keep our country running during this unprecedented time. Many of our IBEW members fall into this category and continue to provide critical services which include healthcare, utilities, telecommunications, railroads, government and construction, just to name a few. However, this pandemic has shown just how vulnerable all workers are. COVID-19 does not discriminate, and we have seen the devastating effects of this virus across the country.
Despite being a year into this pandemic, workers continue to fight for the protections they need to keep themselves safe. This includes access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and the training needed to use it safely, paid sick leave to ensure those feeling unwell can afford to stay home to limit the spread of the virus and paid time off to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. We also must enforce physical distancing in workplaces and the use of PPE especially when physical distancing measures cannot be put into place. Additionally, we encourage all who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to please do so. We also ask that you encourage your friends and family to do the same.
No worker should die from their job; workers deserve to arrive home safely at the end of their workday but too many workers are dying from work. Workplace accidents and illnesses are preventable and should never be seen as “just part of the job”. Workers need to be reminded that they have the right to know about the hazards in their workplace and receive the training they need to be able to do their jobs safely. They have the right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety and most importantly they have the right to refuse work that could endanger their health and safety or that of others.
April 28th is the day we remember those whose lives were lost and those whose lives were forever changed because of something that happened in their workplace. It is also the day when we resolve to make every workplace a safe and healthy place to earn a living.
Even though the pandemic has limited our ability to meet in person, vigils and ceremonies are still being held virtually. The CLC has compiled a list of events being held by local District Labour Councils and Federations of Labour. Please consult the list to see what is available in your area. The CLC will also be holding a Facebook event throughout the day in which they will share videos, stories, and images of workers that lost their lives from COVID-19 on the job. They ask that you comment and post the names or stories of additional workers who lost their lives at work throughout the past year.
Additionally, on the evening of April 28th at 7pm EDT, they will be hosting a phone banking session as part of their digital organizing series. They are asking supporters to register to call people across the country, asking them to take action on paid sick leave. (Please note, this session will be in English only).
While we can’t meet in person, we can hold virtual memorials and share a moment of silence over video or teleconference. We must continue to bring visibility to the importance of commemorating the National Day of Mourning. We must insist that all levels of government do more to enforce existing health and safety laws and vigorously prosecute violations when a worker is killed or seriously injured.
We owe it to the families who have lost their loved ones to preventable workplace accidents and illnesses to do better for today’s workers. Everyone deserves to return home to their loved ones at the end of the day.
Tom Reid, International Vice President
IBEW First District – Canada