"We must ensure every worker has the freedom to join a union to protect their interests. Only then will workplace tragedies be prevented," said Clancy. James Clancy, NUPGE President.
Ottawa (28 April 2013) – Every year, on April 28, communities across Canada honour the workers who were seriously injured or killed as a result of workplace accidents. In Canada, over 1000 people die each year.
In the wake of the devastating garment building collapse in Bangladesh which has killed at least 300 women, while over 400 more are missing, the National Day of Mourning takes on greater significance. Why? Because workplace injury and death is preventable, both here in Canada and in places like Bangladesh.
Reports from survivors reveal some of harsh realities. Even with cracks forming in the building, workers were bullied back inside. Without labour laws to refuse unsafe working conditions, without the ability to organize to defend their rights at work and because these women needed their meagre wages to feed their families, these women workers had few options to fight back.
Unfortunately, many who work in Canada feel similar pressures. It is important to remember that Canada still has one of the highest rates of workplace deaths in the industrialized world. Without strong labour laws and employer accountability mechanisms, workers often face huge challenges in voicing concerns.
It became clear after the Westray mine disaster and the wilful act of corporate criminal negligence that our Criminal Code needed to be amended to ensure those responsible for workplace deaths were prosecuted. And in 2003, with the efforts of the Canadian Labour Congress and the entire labour movement, the Westray Bill was passed into law amending the Criminal Code.
"No one wakes up in the morning to go to work thinking they might die today. It's the last thing on their minds, " says James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "Unfortunately it becomes the reality for far too many. We have laws which require safe workplaces. We need more enforcement of these laws and we need serious reprecussions for those employers and companies who violate them."
A message has to be sent that cutting corners on health and safety and employees being killed is not acceptable. If and when an employer willfully neglects health and safety, knowing that someone can be injured or killed, they should be held criminally responsible. Corporations and their representatives need to be held accountable. As workers, we need to pressure our government to choose the safety of workers over corporations profits.
Unions best protection
Ultimately, unions remain the best way to prevent abuses in the workplace. In sectors like the garment industry, the right to organize and form a union has certainly reduced the rate of workplace injury and deaths across the country.
"We must ensure every worker has the freedom to join a union to protect their interests. Only then will workplace tragedies be prevented," said Clancy.
Solidarity with Bangladeshi workers
Clancy continued, "The events in Bangladesh is a reminder that our fight for labour rights is not just a domestic one. Our sympathy goes out to the workers and the families of those who died, especially today. Our job is not done until all workers can earn a decent living safely."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE