Presented by Barbara Byers on Thursday, 28 April 2011
(Check against delivery)
Sisters and brothers – I have to ask all Canadian workers a question which makes us sick to our stomachs – “Is Today The Day You Die At Work?”
That workers leaving for their job each day should ask themselves that terrible question, is totally unacceptable – and it is sadly necessary.
Each week in Canada, 20 workers do not come home to their families, their loved ones, their home, and their friends.
Each year nearly 1,000 Canadian workers die because of their jobs.
They will die as a result of entirely preventable causes – or because of fatal diseases like cancer and asbestosis caused by exposure to carcinogens in their workplace.
That exposure could also have been prevented – but was not.
And that is why we gather together each April 28th for the past 27 years – to grieve for those lost and to fight to end this nightmare of workplace deaths.
Unfortunately, it happened again only 20 days ago.
One construction worker died and three more were injured when a brick wall collapsed and fell onto a scaffold where they were working to repair a building in Montreal.
Passers-by rushed to help dig them out of the rubble by hand – but for one worker it was too late.
And it happened again just 17 days ago in Toronto when a worker was pulled into an industrial pasta machine, and died of his injuries.
We need much greater prevention measures to keep workers safe on the job.
We also urgently need the tough legislation that punishes those responsible for violating safety rules when workers are killed or injured on the job to be enforced, not ignored.
That message has particular importance this election year as federal, and many provincial and municipal politicians, ask for workers’ votes.
The Canadian Labour Congress, our affiliates, our Federations of Labour and our Labour Councils have a simple request:
Lay charges under the criminal code provisions that would send those employers found guilty of criminal negligence causing the deaths of workers to jail, to pay for their actions.
Working together, the labour movement persuaded the federal government to pass The Westray Act - Bill C-45 – named after the mine where 26 workers tragically died in a methane explosion.
But despite the Westray Act allowing for the criminal prosecution of those believed to be responsible – including corporations - for the deaths of workers on the job – little has happened.
Last year, police in Toronto and Sault Ste. Marie laid criminal negligence causing death charges against employers in two separate fatal construction accidents.
Nova Scotia and Manitoba have recently appointed special prosecutors for workplace fatalities that might be attributed to employer negligence.
But to date, only in Quebec, have employers been prosecuted and found guilty of being responsible for workers’ deaths on the job.
It’s not enough and it’s not acceptable that for 27 years the carnage of workers being killed on the job continues, that another 1,000 families face the horrible news that their loved one will never come home again.
This year, let’s tell politicians, at every level, that we want them to get “tough on crime” – the crime of letting employers get away with murder when a worker is killed on the job through negligence.
Let’s demand far more action by government to do everything possible to stop needless workplace deaths and injuries.
Police officers investigate these accidents and have the authority to conclude what charges could be laid.
Provincial and territorial Crown prosecutors are responsible for taking charges to the courts.
So we need governments to make it a priority to charge and prosecute those employers causing death and serious injury through negligence – that’s our message.
Let’s make it completely unnecessary for any worker to have to ask themselves “Is Today The Day You Die At Work?”
Thank you sisters and brothers.