Earlier this month, we lost a member of CUPE Ontario, a 58-year-old cleaner at the Brampton Civic Hospital, due to COVID-19. This is a devastating tragedy for the family and friends of the worker – and the 280,000 members of CUPE Ontario extend our sympathies and share in the deep feeling of loss.
Today, on April 28, we remember this member as we commemorate the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job. And while we mark this date every year to commemorate those who have lost their lives at work, we are also living through a global pandemic where so many essential workers are getting sick while fighting COVID-19. Workplace injury has taken on a whole other meaning during this crisis.
April 28th is a day to remember that, while front line workers are rightfully being heralded as heroes, they are not invincible. Workers on the front-line lack access to proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and information to keep themselves and others safe. There isn’t enough testing; we’re not seeing extensive tracking in our workplaces; and workers aren’t being fully supported when they need to self-isolate.
Workers deserve to go to work and come home healthy and whole at the end of each day. The extraordinary times we’re in remind us all of the fundamental importance of recommitting to ensuring that no one is ever injured or killed on the job again. Because first we mourn, then we organize: that’s our guiding principle, now more than ever.
We’re organizing to make sure the Ontario government takes action now. We need a government that will ramp up production of PPE by ordering the private sector to make these critically important supplies – retooling and reopening factories if necessary. We need a government that will invest to scale up tracking and testing to more quickly slow the virus and flatten the curve. And we need all workers to have access to paid sick days now more than ever.
Workers’ protection under the Occupational Health and Safety Act has never been more important. The right to know, the right to participate, the right to refuse – all must be fully enforced. That includes demanding the province’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development protect front-line workers who are refusing unsafe work due to the pandemic.
And finally, we’re calling for legislative changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act so that if a worker contracts the virus, it’s assumed it was due to the nature of their work. This will help entitle workers to claims they couldn’t have made otherwise.
This is a critical time in our province, our country, and around the world. Much of how this crisis unfolds is beyond our control. But there’s a lot we can still do.
Today, and onward, let’s organize, attend virtual Day of Mourning events, and raise awareness about our conditions to ensure that workers are protected and supported during this crisis and after.
Fred Hahn, President
Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer