As CUPE Ontario and the Injured Workers Committee mark International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day, we remember that workers across the province are paying a physical as well as a financial and mental price for the underfunding of our public services.

Deliberate and chronic underfunding of public services by the Conservative government of Ontario, combined with wage suppression legislation that violated workers rights, have combined to lead to a staffing crisis throughout the broader public sector. This underfunding has increased workloads dramatically and, as a consequence, increased the rate of repetitive strain experienced by workers. RSIs, also called musculoskeletal disorders, are injuries to the body’s tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves and joints and they cause chronic and sometimes debilitating pain of the neck, back, chest, shoulders, arms and hands.

No worker should have to live with chronic pain because of the work they do, but many thousands do. As trade unionists, RSI Awareness Day is an occasion to look to the roots of the condition and its prevention and demand better for those who are affected by RSI.

Employers have an obligation to ensure safe workplaces and to do everything they can to reduce repetitive strain.  But employers increasingly can’t recruit and retain workers because the wages they offer are so low, a direct impact of Conservative wage restraint imposed by the unconstitutional Bill 124. Workers continue to find themselves under greater pressure to do more work in less time and cover the work of two or more people.

It’s no wonder, then, that RSIs represent about 50% of all lost-time days in Ontario and 40% of all lost-time claims approved by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

CUPE Ontario and the Injured Workers Committee are committed to protecting workers who are at risk or suffer from RSI. Improved working conditions, education, and prevention are key to fighting this debilitation condition and your workplace’s Joint Health and Safety Committee and health and safety representatives are key allies.

Fighting to increase wages, ensuring a full complement of workers, funding public services to meet population growth and inflation – these are vital elements of advocacy that, when successful, will have a real and lasting impact on lowering the number of RSIs in the broader public sector.

On this day of awareness, we encourage members to review the Injured Workers Committee RSI Newsletter and CUPE’s factsheet on RSI and visit the recommended sites for more information. And we urge all to remain committed to the political advocacy work we do together in CUPE Ontario. Together, we will continue to demand the measure that support workers living with and at risk of this all-too-common yet preventable condition.