On Tuesday April 28, working people across the country will mark the Day of Mourning. This is a day to remember those workers who have been injured or killed on the job, and to renew our efforts to prevent these tragedies from happening. In short, it is a day to mourn for those who have lost their lives and fight for the living.
The COVID-19 pandemic underscores that proper workplace health and safety can make the difference between life and death. The 140 workers who died in 2019 from workplace injury or disease demonstrate that we need to improve work environments in every sector. Every working person deserves to return home safe at the end of the day.
Employers need to provide the proper workplace equipment, training, and appropriate staffing levels to maintain worker safety in every sector, period. We know now that resources are available to ensure workplaces are safe and healthy and it needs to be spent. This crisis has clearly shown what has always been true: when corners are cut, workers are hurt – often with life-altering consequences.
Post-secondary institution employers are not exempt from their responsibility for faculty and staff safety. Our federation has supported our member unions in successfully bargaining for Joint Occupational Safety and Health committees. These committees bring the employer and workers together to raise safety concerns in order to prevent workplace injuries before they happen. In addition, two of FPSE’s 12 standing committees are devoted to workplace safety and worker rehabilitation, the Workplace Health, Safety & Environment Committee and the Disability Management & Rehabilitation Committee.
These are just a few of the ways we fight for the living. As COVID-19 has shown, vulnerable workers – those who are precarious, underpaid, and lack full healthcare benefits – fare much worse during a crisis, both financially and physically. That’s why we work to improve working conditions and address inequalities in every round of bargaining. It’s why we call for enough public funding to properly pay and protect the educators working at our colleges, teaching universities and institutes. It’s why we recognize that racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and bigotry exist and why we look for solutions that specifically address pre-existent inequalities. Just as we are sadly all not treated equally in our workplaces, we are not suffering equally during this pandemic.
This is something I’ll be thinking about tomorrow. I invite you to join me in marking this year’s Day of Mourning by joining virtual actions and an online ceremony to honour our lost or hurt coworkers, and to commit ourselves to eliminating workplace death and injury in the future.
Day of Mourning BC | https://www.dayofmourning.bc.ca/
Join us here in a moment of silence on April 28 at 10:30 am to remember the 140 B.C. workers who died last year from a workplace injury or disease. We will be posting messages from our partners and a video to recognize the day, and those we lost.
Other ways to observe the day:
- Make a dedication to those who have died or been injured at work
- Observe a moment of silence
- Download and display a poster or decal in your workplace (see above)
Our work must continue beyond the Day of Mourning, and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis motivated support for workers that has been necessary for years. Provincial and federal government responses have rightly focused on providing immediate help. However, long term decisions will soon be made that will either return us to the inequalities of the past or start to eliminate the hardships too many have experienced for far too long. We all have a role to play in determining what this future looks like. Labour unions and federations are demanding that all employers provide workers with sick leave coverage in order to prevent illness and death. This is just one of the many opportunities we have to address the health, safety, and wellbeing of all workers.
This is how we will honour the spirit of the Day of Mourning: by remembering those we have lost and using what we have learned from this crisis to fight for the living. We owe our coworkers past, present, and future nothing less.
Terri Van Steinburg
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.