OHS Canada Magazine

National Day of Mourning recognized throughout Ontario’s Niagara Region


May 14, 2024
By Ed Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer
Health & Safety

In Niagara Region the day’s events are organized by the Niagara Region Labour Council, an organization representing thousands of unionized workers across Niagara.

The NRLC promotes social justice, human rights, fair labour laws and safe workplaces, and for the Day of Mourning organized ten events throughout the region. The event in Niagara-on-the-Lake was held at the monument dedicated to fallen workers in the town and was presided over by Lou Ann Binning, President of NRLC.

In her address to the small crowd Binning noted that the day is marked in more than 100 countries and serves not only to remember those who have suffered because of their labour, but it is also a day to “renew a collective commitment to improving workplace health and safety and to preventing further injuries, illnesses and deaths.”

As Niagara sees migrant workers performing the labour that is economically critical for the entire region, depending on these individuals brought here by companies who make considerable profits on their backs, the price these workers pay is often far more than anyone should bear.

Canada records about 1,000 on-the-job deaths a year, but that number may be grossly misleading.  According to Canadian Occupational Safety the number could be up to ten times higher. The current system of attributing workplace death and injuries does not account for family members who may die prematurely because of exposure to clothing worn by a spouse who worked in asbestos for instance, nor does it account for workers who die in transit to and from work, or any number of other work related deaths and illnesses.

Advertisement

In attendance at Sunday morning’s ceremony was Wendy Murray Nicholson. Her husband Joel was 39-years-old when he died on Nov 4, 1998 after being crushed by a piece of machinery at GM. The accident was ruled preventable and the employer was held liable in that they did not provide adequate training before allowing him to operate the machine.

Again quoting Binning, the NRLC is “committed to protecting all workers by making every workplace a safe and healthy place to earn a living.”

The third speaker at the event was Kit Andres, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), an organization that supports migrant workers in their efforts to stand up against bad bosses and poor working conditions as well as organizing and advocating to create change and “better laws and fairness for all.”

Andres spoke about the particular difficulties faced by migrant workers in Canada. In response to questions from the Pointer she stated that “It’s important to honour migrant farmworkers who have died or been injured on the job because without permanent resident status, migrants are denied the power to speak up about their rights and protect themselves.”

According to MWAC at least 30 migrant farmworkers have died in Ontario over the last five years, including ten in Niagara, and the number of serious illnesses and injuries are much higher. It’s an alarming number of deaths, made worse by a system that Andres says has inequity built into it.  She points out that the workers do not have a seat at the table when the contracts for their employment are being arranged.

The discussions take place between the employer, the Canadian government and the home country’s government; no representatives of the workers are involved.

Andres says this creates a two-tiered system that undermines any attempt to build a fair and safe work environment for workers. MWAC maintains that migrant workers face job termination,eviction, deportation and being blacklisted from the farm work program for life if they attempt to assert their rights to a safe work environment.

Andres comments are reinforced by a 2023 UN special rapporteur assessment of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). The report found that Canada’s system creates an unequal relationship that makes employees vulnerable to exploitation and creates a “breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery.”

While it seems apparent there is so much room for improvement in workplace health and safety, Binning says we must “remain committed to protecting all workers by making every workplace a safe and healthy place to earn a living.”

Advertisement

Stories continue below