Day of Mourning vigil in Vernon

April 22, 2002

The North Okanagan Labour Council is teaming up with the Citizens Against Reduction and Elimination of Services to put on a candlelight vigil outside Vernon City Hall, Monday (April 29) to mark the national Day of Mourning.

The Day of Mourning is held annually on April 28 to remember workers who have been killed and injured on the job. Begun by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984, the Day of Mourning is now observed worldwide. Labour councils and community groups throughout the province are hosting ceremonies and events to mark the day.

In the past couple of years, the NOLC has purchased trees at public parks in Kelowna and Vernon in memory of workers killed and injured on the job. The trees are marked with plaques at Ben Lee Park in Kelowna and in Vernon near the Veteran's Memorial in the Memory Lane linear park on Okanagan Landing Road.

The theme of the Day of Mourning this year - the 10th anniversary of the Westray Mine Disaster, which killed 26 miners May 9, 1992 in Cape Breton, N.S. - is Some Workplace Accidents are a Crime.

In B.C., workplace safety is of particular concern this Day of Mourning with the provincial government on the verge of slashing safety regulations, which will make all work sites in the province more hazardous.

According to the Canadian Labour Congress, four Canadians die on the job each day:

  • About one million workplace injuries occur each year in Canada and a compensable injury occurs every seven seconds each working day.

  • Deaths from workplace injury average nearly a thousand a year. In Canada, one worker is killed every two hours of each working day.

  • Deaths from workplace diseases go largely unrecorded and uncompensated; they likely exceed deaths from workplace injuries

In B.C., Labour Minister Graham Bruce is getting ready to slash safety regulations and, possibly, privatize the Workers' Compensation Board.

These developments alarm NOLC President David Doran: "Victoria is exposing B.C. workers to injury or death under the guise of reducing red tape and 'fixing' the WCB," said Doran.

In British Columbia last year:

  • 180 workers died because of the work they do. Among them, a school district employee in Kelowna.

  • Six young workers between 15 and 24 years old who had been on the job for less than six months were killed.

  • 140,000 workers received compensation for work-related injuries or diseases

  • 4,000 workers became disabled for life.

For workers, Liberal "streamlining" means:

  • Eliminating one-third of the health and safety regulations and watering down the regulations that remain;

  • Making changes to the Workers Compensation Act that will reduce injured workers' benefits and services; and

  • Demanding major concessions from the Compensation Employees' Union (CEU).

"Protecting workers' health and ensuring workers receive full compensation if injured must be the government's top priority," said Doran.

"Any changes that are made to the system must make workplaces safer and healthier, improve the quality and timeliness of services to injured workers, and at the end of the day significantly reduce the number of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths in B.C."

Studies indicate privatized workers' compensation systems cost employers considerably more than public systems, warned Doran. Marketing costs and the need to make a profit take money out of the private system - money that could be spent on injury and illness prevention and injured workers' benefits.

The WCB's financial situation also indicates that cuts to the system are not necessary. For the past six years the WCB has realized an operating surplus totalling $1.5 billion.

Doran said it is offensive that health and safety regulations are considered "red tape" and a barrier to global competition. There is every indication that rigorous enforcement of health and safety regulations saves workers' lives. To consider workers disposable in the corporate race to gain competitive advantage is outrageous.

The Vernon vigil begins at 7 p.m. outside City Hall at 3400 - 30th Street.



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