Thousands of workers, and their families and friends, gathered across Ontario to mark the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job on April 28. This year, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), an umbrella group for workers in the Canadian province and their unions, used the day to focus on calls to ban asbestos.
The OFL represents more than one million Ontario workers, belonging to more than 1,500 locals from 54 affiliated unions. It pushes for legislative change in areas that affect people’s daily lives, including health, education, workplace safety, wages, and employment standards, as well as basic rights, and workers’ compensation and pensions. It also works closely with the Ontario government, mounting awareness campaigns to mobilize political pressure for changes it considers necessary.
One OFL campaign now in its sixth year, “Kill a Worker Go to Jail,” made history in January when Vadim Kazenelson, Metron Construction’s project manager, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for workplace neglect that caused the death of four workers and serious injury to a fifth in 2009, a press release reported.
This year, the OFL has joined with the Canadian Labour Congress in calling for a ban on asbestos. An estimated 145,000 Canadian workers are exposed to asbestos every year, and more than 2,000 are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other diseases linked to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is now considered the No. 1 workplace killer in Canada, and although the country ended the mining and export of asbestos in 2011, it still allows the import of asbestos-containing products.
“There is absolutely no justifiable reason to delay a full ban on asbestos. Indeed, Canadian lives are depending on it,” said Chris Buckley, OFL president. “It is time to start listening to the resounding scientific evidence, it is time to start listening to the tragic stories of the families of fallen workers, and it is time to make workplace health and safety a national priority.”
OFL staff attended Day of Mourning ceremonies across Ontario. The province’s labor unions and councils, groups of injured workers, as well as family members demanded action from courts and governments to guarantee that workers return home from work safely.
“Canada has the opportunity to show the world we care about stopping the tragedy of asbestos and protecting the lives of every worker. We believe the National Day of Mourning on April 28 offers a tremendous opportunity for meaningful action to make workplace health and safety the bottom line for every employer,” Buckley concluded.
According to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), 226 workers lost their lives due to workplace and occupational accidents in 2015, and every year, 230,000 become ill or are injured through their jobs.