Carol Hughes Statement on Workers Day of Mourning

“Today, on the National Day of Mourning, we gather to remember workers lost to workplace accidents and occupational related disease and to send our condolences to their loved ones.  We gather to honour their memory and, support those who are ill and injured, and to give each other strength to share our resolve in bringing about changes that will make our workplaces safer.  

In just two weeks we will mark the 25th anniversary of Westray Mining Disaster that killed 26 workers in an underground methane explosion.  The blast was a catalyst for action.  A judicial inquiry found management responsible for the disaster and ultimately led to legislation that added corporate criminal negligence to the Criminal Code.

Despite those important developments, the measures that were introduced as a result of the ‘Westray bill’ are often not enforced.  This gives too many employers a sense of security and provides no urgent reason for them to improve dangerous conditions in our workplaces.

Our friends in the labour movement are calling on the government to work with its provincial and territorial counterparts to adopt an urgent action plan that includes training and direction for Crown prosecutors to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code.  They are calling for dedicated prosecutors for workplace health and safety fatalities and training and directing police to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code.

These are important next steps, along with the work we have done with union activists here in the North to call for more regional federal health and safety officers.  Right now our region is underserved and that puts workers at undue risk.

We cannot allow cost-cutting measures to cost us our lives or our health.  Every year in Canada we average a thousand work-related fatalities.  This includes workers as young as fifteen.  In addition to that thousands more are injured or become sick from work.  This is a shame because we have laws in place that could reduce these numbers.

We understand that not every death, injury, or occupational illness is the result of criminal negligence, but we also know that there are more instances than are being investigated or prosecuted. The missing ingredient is the political will to serve notice to employers that the time has come to make workplace health and safety a priority.”