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Preparing for a poignant – if distant – National Day of Mourning in the NWT

Todd Parsons
Todd Parsons

Today, April 28, is Canada's National Day of Mourning.

Also known as International Workers' Memorial Day, this is a day of remembrance and call to action for workers who have been killed, disabled, injured, or made unwell by their work. It's also a day to draw attention to the preventable nature of most workplace incidents and call for improvements in workplace safety.

A National Day of Mourning was originally established in Canada in 1984 by the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The following year, the Canadian Labour Congress declared an annual day of remembrance on April 28, the anniversary of a comprehensive Workers' Compensation Act which was passed by the federal government in 1914. In 1991, the Canadian parliament officially designated April 28 as National Day of Mourning for persons killed or injured in the workplace.

The day is now recognized around the world by the United Nations' International Labour Organization. This year's international theme – Anticipate, Prepare, and Respond to Crises – examines how the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of strengthening occupational health and safety systems.

Todd Parsons

The challenges presented by COVID-19 have led governments, employers, workers, unions, and the general population to consider how an international event like a pandemic has affected the world of work.

The pandemic has profoundly impacted nearly every aspect of how we work, from the risk of transmission of the virus in workplaces, to health and safety risks that have emerged as a result of measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.

New forms of working arrangements, such as working from home, have presented opportunities for workers but also exposed many workers to risks, such as mental health impacts and increased domestic violence.

For those still in the workplace, the pandemic in the south has already taken a terrible toll on front-line health care workers, first responders, grocery store clerks, teachers, airport personnel, and many more essential workers who continue to go into work so that others can stay home to slow the spread of the virus.

We must continue to advocate for all workers – including vulnerable and precarious workers – to have access to personal protective equipment, proper training, and access to paid sick leave and other supports they need to do their jobs safely.

Now more than ever, it's important that we reinforce and defend the fundamental health and safety protections enshrined in our collective agreements, labour laws, and jurisdictions across Canada.

Workers 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. They should also be included in decisions that could affect their health and safety in the workplace. In the NWT, workers also have the right to refuse work that could endanger their health and safety or that of others. 

Unions will continue to pressure all levels of government to learn the lessons from this pandemic so that we will never again experience the devastation we've seen due to COVID-19.  It is unfortunate that the Canadian government did not implement the lessons learned from the 2006 SARS Commission report, which would have enabled them to be better prepared to respond to COVID-19.

Traditionally on April 28, we come together to remember all those who lost their lives or were injured on the job, and restate our commitment to protecting workers and preventing further tragedies. While we can't gather in person, we can remember those who have fallen by lighting a candle in our homes or sharing a photo on social media.

This year, the UNW will be mourning in solidarity with our members of Local 16 along with all who knew Michael Chinna, who lost his life in a tragic workplace accident in March.

Together, we will remember the fallen, and continue to fight for every workers' right to a safe and healthy workplace.