Yesterday, April 28, the National Day of Mourning was honoured in the province by a ceremony held online. New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) president Daniel Légère read a statement at the Moncton memorial that remembers the workers who lost their lives or were injured while on the job. He was broadcast live on Facebook.
The NBFL is the central voice of organized labour in the province “representing over 35,000 workers who live throughout the province and work in every sector of the economy.”
The National Day of Mourning was established in 1984 to commemorate workers and their families affected by workplace accidents. The day gives everyone the opportunity to reflect on these unsung heroes who carried out their duties in circumstances they never could have imagined. The day also focusses attention on ensuring that front line workers have access to what they need to stay safe at work.
Légère began the ceremony acknowledging that given the “challenging times with the COVID-19 outbreak,” the “ceremonies that usually take place in communities throughout the province cannot safely happen.”
He also expressed his organization’s solidarity and support for their “Brothers and Sisters in Nova Scotia, as they grapple with the aftermath of the recent terrible mass shooting.” This tragedy furthers emphasizes the importance of “the Federation’s work to end all forms of violence, and especially gender-based violence.”
The Day of Mourning is when workers “remember those who lost their lives or had their lives changed forever because of something that happened in their workplace,” said Légère. It is also when everyone comes together to “remember and recommit to work to better protect workers and prevent further tragedies, essentially to make every workplace safe and healthy.”
Légère provided the statistics for New Brunswick and Canada. Last year, 8,780 New Brunswickers were injured on the job and 17 people lost their lives as a result of a workplace injury or disease. Across the country, 1,027 workers died because of their job in 2018. He noted that many more work-related deaths are not captured by our workers’ compensation system.
After a minute of silence to honour and remember those who died and were injured, Légère highlighted the importance of the Day of Mourning especially as it applies today. He said that every day, millions of workers deemed essential are risking their wellbeing, going to work hoping that others are taking all the right precautions.
He shared the story of Keith Saunders, the grocery story worker in Oshawa Ontario exposed to COVID-19 at work who passed away at 48 years of age. Stories like this, he said, “show us the risk that many workers are undertaking to make sure that the essential services we all depend on continue during this pandemic.”
Noting the considerable concern that front-line staff have about the threat of COVID-19, Légère said that “it’s our duty to stand up for them. We owe it to all these workers to make sure they know their rights and that those rights are defended.”
He emphasized three basic rights of every worker protected in health and safety statutes in every jurisdiction in Canada, including New Brunswick.
1) The Right to know about the hazards in their workplace and receive the training they need to be able to do their jobs safely.
2) The Right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.
3) The Right to refuse work that could endanger their health and safety or that of others. The right to refuse is not the first step to protect workers. This is a serious, sometimes necessary step that no worker takes lightly.
Légère ended the ceremony with the NBFL’s commitment to continue “fighting for fair wages, adequate paid sick leave and proper job protections. As workers, retirees, leaders, activists and allies we must continue to come together to make every workplace safe and healthy for everyone.”
The ceremony recording can be accessed on the NBFL Facebook page
Daniel Légère is New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) President. Brian Beaton is a writer and the calendar coordinator for the NB Media Co-op.