On June 1st every year, injured workers and labour activists gather outside the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park in Toronto and in cities across the province to mark Injured Workers’ Day. We rally on this day to celebrate the gains made through united action, raise current concerns – and remind governments we cannot be ignored.
The day commemorates June 1st 1983 when over three thousand injured workers forced a government committee looking at major changes Ontario’s workers’ compensation system to conduct a public hearing on the steps of the Legislature.
Pressure by the Association of Injured Workers’ Groups (AIWG) had made the the Standing Committee eventually agree to set aside a day of hearings for injured workers to voice their concerns about the Weiler proposals, which included replacing the permanent disability pension with a wage loss system. They came in numbers too large for the Committee rooms, so at the suggestion of the AIWG the hearings were held outside on the lawns of the legislature.
The solidarity and activism of the injured worker movement during the 1983 June 1st event drew public and media attention to their objections to the government’s process of reform.
- Bedard, Ella. 2015 Jun 1. “Injured Workers’ Day: Support Shouldn’t Come in Half-measures.” Rabble.ca
- Schwartz, Kristin. 2009. “The Long Road to Justice: Ontario’s Injured Workers and Injured Workers’ Day.” Our Times, 28(2): 16-19
- Injured Workers’ History Project. 2006. Injured Workers’ Day. Toronto: Bancroft Institute (IWHP bulletin, no. 1)
- Union of Injured Workers. 1985. “Now Is the Time!” Injured Workers Voice, May/June: 1-2
- Ontario Federation of Labour. Communications Dept. Injured Workers Day [photo albums and Youtube videos]
- Rebel Sage. “Justice for Injured Workers – June 1, 2015, Toronto” [4 Youtube video]
Injured Workers’ Day Rally & March: Thursday June 1st
Injured workers, labour, health & safety activists, supporters and families gathered again at the annual gathering in front of the Legislative Building, Queen’s Park, and marched down University Ave to the Ministry of Labour where they were joined by CUPE convention attendees. They brought a message to government about the rights of all to a fair workers’ compensation system. Read June 1st article by Willy Noiles, President of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG) in RankandFile.ca (May 30).
On the evening before, the Women of Inspiration Injured Worker Group led the 11th annual Overnight Vigil to remind MPPs that injured workers cannot sleep at night due to pain and poverty, so how can our politicians? Tributes were made to the memory of one of the founders of the Women of Inspiration, lawyer and social justice activist Patricia O’Reilly, and Rolly Martentette, injured worker activist. A cultural showcase of of music followed, with poetry, storytelling, and satire celebrating the resilience of injured workers.
Following the June 1st march, an afternoon Panel discussion – Fighting Back Against Unsafe and Toxic Work was held at the OCAD University. Featured speakers included injured workers, survivors and victims of occupational disease, healthcare workers standing up to workplace violence, and health & safety activists. See Facebook event for archived video.
Injured workers’ message
When workers are injured or made ill on the job, they have a right to full compensation. They have a right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be provided with the support they need to get back on their feet.
But the cutting edge of austerity in Ontario means those rights are being violated. The WSIB is singularly focused on reducing its own costs on the backs of injured workers, without care or compassion for the thousands who are driven into poverty and desperation when their benefits are slashed.
Across the board, the austerity agenda is making workers more disposable and is eroding fairness in the workplace. We are seeing an epidemic of precarious, insecure, and low-waged jobs. Precarious work means unsafe work.
We are seeing the government and WSIB turn a blind eye to workplace violence, harassment, and chronic mental stress – even though the WSIB has been found to be violating the Charter of Rights & Freedoms on this front.
We have also seen the Liberal government increase the risk of workplace accidents, injuries, and deaths, by passing legislation that allows employers to bar proactive health and safety inspections. This trades off worker safety for employer profit.
With so many workers in vulnerable and precarious positions, we cannot be silent in the face of a workers’ compensation system that is more concerned with its own bottom line than with protecting the well-being of injured workers. We need to come together and demand our right to compensation.
So join us on Injured Workers’ Day as we take to the streets and raise our collective voices to say:
Workers’ comp is a right!
Decent work is a right!
Safe work is a right!
We will not give up the fight!
The event marked also the final stage of the 600 km Justice for Injured Workers Bike Ride, which left Ottawa May 25th and has been bringing this message to communities along the route.
Updated June 8, 2017