Communities across Ontario will hold Day of Mourning ceremonies this Sunday (Monday in some locations) to recognize workers killed, made ill or injured on the job. The event, initiated in 1984 by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) workers and adopted by the Canadian Labour Congress, was declared a national Day by the federal government in 1990 [… read more on the Day’s history]. Since then over 100 countries commemorate a Workers’ Memorial Day, with workers uniting to “Remember the Dead, and Fight for the Living.” (See a list of global activities, resources and safety campaigns at 28April.org.)
- To find an event near you, see the WHSC List of Day of Mourning events in Ontario
- View worker memorials (by community)
The activism and struggles of injured workers and advocates for fair workers’ compensation and treatment, evidence from occupational health research & surveillance , and greater media coverage have shone a light on how occupational disease and injury are devastating Ontario workers and their families. Ministry of Labour statistics report 81 deaths from injury in 2017. As elsewhere in Canada, compensated deaths from occupational disease in Ontario (146 in 2017) have long outnumbered work-related traumatic fatalities. The plight of Kitchener-Waterloo rubber workers, Sarnia chemical workers, Northern Ontario miners, and Peterborough GE plant workers has brought public attention to the obstacles to claims recognition for those suffering from of work-related disease and cancer, where diagnosis often occurs long after the exposure to hazardous substances. As noted by occupational cancer expert Paul Demers, such exposure “hits a wide variety of occupations and a wide variety of workers … It’s a major societal problem.”
Yet, as injured workers are only too well aware, a look beyond WSIB statistics shows they vastly understate the true numbers of deaths from work-related illness and injury. A recent study led by Steven Bittle estimates they may be 10 times greater than the official figures which omit, for example, deaths of workers not covered by workers’ compensation, stress-induced suicides, commuting fatalities and undiagnosed or uncompensated occupational disease.
On this Day of Mourning honouring those killed on the job requires a commitment by the province to: