April 28 is the National Day of Mourning, a day to remember those who died, or were injured or made ill, from their work. It is also a day people are asked to recommit to improving health and safety and preventing tragedies in the workplace.

This year’s day of mourning takes a special significance as we fight COVID-19. Government and employers must do everything possible to stop the pandemic in the workplace and protect the workforce from infection.

I am thinking especially of all the essential workers who are key to keeping us fed, healthy and supplied. 

Truck drivers, railroaders, couriers, nurses, sanitation workers, grocery store employees, airport workers and others cannot be safe if governments do not enforce strict rules and if the public does not follow local health recommendations. Employers too must implement the best possible practices and provide their employees with best possible personal protective equipment. 

Health and safety problems have existed in Canada long before this pandemic. 

Every year in Canada, over 900 people die on the job over 250,000 claims are filed for time lost due to workplace-related injuries and illnesses. Close to half of all fatalities occurred the transportation, construction and manufacturing industries. These numbers obviously cannot take into account all the workplace injuries and illnesses which are never reported.

Beyond the statistics and the individual lives lost, we must never forget that these tragedies affect scores of family members, friends and co-workers.

To that end, we remember Brother Kirk McLean, a Canadian Pacific locomotive engineer who was killed last December in an accident at the company’s rail yard in Port Coquitlam, BC. He was a husband and a 56-year-old father of two grown sons. I have his family in my thoughts as I write these lines. 

Many people are still unaware of the significance of April 28. I invite everyone to raise awareness about the National Day of Mourning by sharing this post, wearing a black ribbon, lighting a candle or attending a virtual Day of Mourning ceremony.

But most importantly, you can honour the memory of those we lost by fighting for the safety of the living. That means getting involved in health and safety committees, focusing on prevention, and never being afraid to speak up when you see something dangerous at work.

All accidents are preventable, and our union will always be there for those who stick up for safety.

In solidarity,

François Laporte
President
Teamsters Canada