On this most sombre of days in the labour calendar, CUPE Ontario honours all workers who have been injured on the job, made ill from their jobs, or lost their lives at work.

There are Workers Day of Mourning events taking place across the province on April 28, each one a testament to workers’ commitment and determination to marking this day and paying their respects. Hundreds of CUPE Ontario members will be among those in attendance.

CUPE Ontario members can be proud of CUPE’s role in establishing the Workers’ Day of Mourning. At its 1983 convention, CUPE National adopted a resolution calling for a national day of mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. The following year, the CUPE National Health and Safety Committee submitted a similar resolution to the Canadian Labour Congress, which adopted it during its 1984 convention. After a sustained campaign by labour and the NDP, the Canadian government in 1990 officially recognized April 28 as a national Workers’ Day of Mourning. Canada was the first country to proclaim such a day, and others around the world soon follow its example.

Since the last Workers’ Day of Mourning, CUPE Ontario has lost two members to workplace accidents: Brother Michael Boulanger, a municipal worker for the City of Greater Sudbury and member of CUPE 4705; and Sister Sherri Anne D’Amour, a driver with the Disabled and Aged Regional Transit System (DARTS) and member of CUPE 5167.

In remembering these members and their loved ones, we recall Mother Jones’s exhortation to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” As always, these words are a reminder that Workers Day of Mourning is equally about our collective roles and responsibilities in the prevention of workplace deaths and ensuring safe and health workplaces.

It’s a hard job that has been made even harder by Doug Ford’s PCs. According to the 2022 Report on Work Fatality and Injury Rates in Canada, which analyzes data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), Ontario had the highest number of injury-related and occupational disease-related deaths. The measurements themselves are artificially low, since the rate of on-the-job deaths, injuries, and illnesses are measured by WSIB claims, and WSIB routinely rejects claims of deaths, injuries and illnesses caused by work and working conditions.

Yet the Ford government has rolled back or curtailed protections for workers, including measures instituted during COVID, basic sick leave, workplace safety inspections, and health and safety training.

The COVID-19 pandemic also gave us even greater awareness of mental health as a workplace health and safety issue. As workers, we can’t be fully protected as long as our mental health is under attack from burnout, understaffing, and underfunding. We must ensure that mental health hazards are treated like any other hazard in the workplace.

On this Day of Mourning, we must resolve to learn from the pandemic and the tragic history of workplace deaths and injuries, and to commit to revitalizing our joint workplace health and safety committees. In far too many workplaces, these first lines of defence are not functioning as they should, yet they are our path to avoiding the tragedies of workplaces deaths and injuries in the first place.

We must be activists for health and safety on the job, ready to use the full extent of the Occupational Health and Safety Act when and as we require its powers to protect ourselves, our fellow workers, and the public. These committees are powerful and through them, we can ensure we are ready to act on our rights to

  • refuse work that we believe is unsafe until an investigation finds otherwise
  • a role in deciding what is safe in the workplace and to report hazards
  • be informed about all hazards in the workplace and how to prevent them
  • be free from reprisal for enforcing our health and safety rights and legal health and safety provisions.

CUPE Ontario members are encouraged to utilize all the resources that CUPE offers to make health and safety the priorities in our workplace.