The vigils held to mark the National Day of Mourning will be virtual this year – yet another way COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work.
The theme of the Day of Mourning – to mourn for the dead and fight for the living – is ever more meaningful this year.
Right now, millions of workers who have been deemed essential are risking their health and wellbeing every day so that the rest of us can work from home during this pandemic.
We hear the accounts of care workers at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Ontario where a third of the residents have died and at least 24 staff members have tested positive for the virus. These same workers are now reporting that no precautions were being taken and sick residents were not being separated from healthy ones until after 16 people had died. Many health care aides working in long-term care homes across the country are deeply concerned about the threat of COVID-19 and are reporting a potential shortage of personal protective equipment.
Essential services workers are not only health care workers, but also postal workers, couriers, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, internet service technicians, and utility workers. They are the ones on the front lines and we owe it to all these workers to make sure that their rights are defended.
In every jurisdiction in Canada, workers have three basic rights protected in health and safety statutes:
- Right to know about the hazards in our workplace and receive the training we need to be able to do our jobs safely.
- Right to participate in decisions that could affect our health and safety.
- Right to refuse work that could endanger our health and safety or that of others. The right to refuse is not the first step to protect workers. This is a serious, sometimes necessary step that no worker takes lightly.
These are not frivolous rights, nor can they be set aside in the face of a pandemic. In fact, this pandemic highlights where these rights need to be strengthened.
There are over 1,000 workers who lose their lives every year in this country and many more whose lives have been changed forever because of a workplace accident.
In Saskatchewan alone, we lost 36 workers in work-related deaths in the past year. They are remembered in this video: https://vimeo.com/412379198
The best way to pay tribute to these workers is to commit to fighting for fair wages, adequate paid sick leave and proper job protections.
As workers, retirees, leaders, activists and allies we must continue to come together to make every workplace safe and healthy for everyone.
On this Day of Mourning and in the context of the COVID pandemic, we once again commit ourselves to mourn for the dead and fight for the living.