COVID-19 gives new urgency to annual Day of Mourning
Thursday is the third annual Day of Mourning since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. April 28 is the day to remember those who have died or been injured on the job.
The toll of the pandemic on heath care workers has given new urgency to the memorial day. According to workers’ organizations, COVID-19 now ranks as one of our biggest causes of workplace deaths.
The most recent available statistics show that nearly 1,000 Canadian workers are killed on the job each year – a number that does not include claims rejected by compensation boards.
Whether workers are working remotely or onsite, all are encouraged to hold or support an event, or to simply observe a moment of silence at 11:00 am on April 28.
Here is a list of memorials being held across the country from the Canadian Labour Congress, a member of the Canadian Health Coalition.
The Day of Mourning is a uniquely Canadian story, and started at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, before spreading around the world.
Around 1983, CUPE’s health and safety director, Colin Lambert, and his long-time friend and fellow activist, Ray Sentes, came up with the idea of a day to recognize workers killed and injured on the job, as they sat and watched a funeral cortège for a fallen fire fighter pass by.
Lambert lamented the lack of recognition for other workers killed and injured at work, in contrast to large public events for “fallen” police officers and firefighters.
Here is a fascinating look at the history of the Day of Mourning, and the two Canadian labour activists, Colin Lambert and Ray Sentes, who came up with the idea. Ray Sentes died of asbestosis at the age of 56 in 2000.
As a steelworker and miner at INCO in Sudbury, Lambert was instrumental in having mandatory coroners’ inquests for all miners’ deaths in Ontario.
“The canary’s an appropriate symbol,” Lambert said. “It shows that today workers are the canaries — they are front-line protection for all of us.” The canary is used as a symbol of fallen workers in posters for April 28.
Health care activists and supporters of the labour movement want to ensure that all workers know about the four workers’ rights enshrined in every health and safety law in the country:
- The right to refuse work you believe is unsafe until an investigation can be carried out;
- The right to participate in deciding what is safe in the workplace and to report hazards;
- The right to information on any hazard in the workplace that may cause harm, and how to prevent that harm;
- The right to be free from reprisal for carrying out any of the other rights or any other requirement of health and safety law.