National Day of Mourning, known in other parts of the world as International Workers’ Memorial Day or International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured, takes place every year on April 28.
On this day, we remember workers killed, disabled, injured, or made unwell by their work, and highlight the preventable nature of most workplace incidents and illnesses.
April 28 is a significant date for the labour movement. It is the date on which key pieces of workplace safety legislation were passed in North America – the Workers’ Compensation Act in Canada in 1914, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the US in 1970.
During the 1980s, various unions and labour federations on both sides of the border established April 28 as their day of mourning and remembrance, and in 1991 the Canadian Government passed an Act making April 28 an official National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.
Throughout the 1990s more countries followed suit, and in 2002 the United Nations declared April 28 to be World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
The past two years have put a spotlight on how employers manage safety in their workplaces and changed how we look at the definition of unsafe work.
It has shown us the importance of sick leave, and the role it plays in making workplaces safer. We have seen how a lack of paid sick leave forces workers choose between staying home and losing income or coming to work while sick and endangering fellow workers. No one should have to make that choice.
With the lifting of the public health emergency in the NWT, employers are no longer required to adhere to the CPHO’s covid-specific health and safety measures.
While many of us are happy to see restrictions lifted, the fact is that Covid-19 is still around, and still poses a serious risk to many Northerners – especially those who are immunocompromised or cannot be vaccinated.
For those who are most at risk, or have friends or family who are, returning to a workplace free of any Covid-19 safety measures is a terrifying prospect. Employers need to start thinking about how preventing the spread of illnesses in the workplace will fit alongside pre-existing health and safety practices.
Some employers are choosing to keep masking and physical distancing in place to protect their workers. Though some may find these measures inconvenient, any workplace safety measures that go above and beyond to protect the health and safety of their workers should be respected, so long as they aren’t infringing on any collective agreement or legally protected rights.
If any workplace – whether it’s a local business, or a public service – asks you to wear a mask or any other type of personal protective equipment, think about your role in keeping that workplace safe, and how collective actions make workplaces safer for everyone. You wouldn’t refuse to wear a hardhat on a construction site, would you?
On the flip side, employers have an obligation to ensure that health and safety measures are enforced, and that their policies protect their workers. This includes ensuring a worker does not feel forced to work if they are sick, or send a sick child to school because they can’t get the time off to care for them.
Workers also 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. In the NWT, workers also have the right to refuse work that could endanger their health and safety or that of others.
On April 28, we encourage all workers, organizations, communities, and individuals to observe a moment of silence at 11:00 am to honour those who have died or suffered injury or illness due to a work-related tragedy.
Together, we will remember the fallen, and continue to fight for every worker’s right to a safe and healthy workplace.