Ceremony planned in Kelowna

April 22, 2004

KELOWNA - The North Okanagan Labour Council will remember workers who have been killed and injured on the job in a ceremony April 28.

The Day of Mourning ceremony will take place by the fountain in Rutland's Ben Lee Park, where the NOLC dedicated a tree in 2000 as a memorial to workers who died or were injured in the line of duty.

The ceremony will get underway at 4:30 p.m., and the public is invited to attend.

The Day of Mourning is held annually on April 28.

"The day has two purposes," said North Okanagan Labour Council President David Doran, "to remember workers who have been killed and injured on the job, and also to fight for better safety for workers who are still on the job."

Established by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984, the Day of Mourning is now observed worldwide. Labour councils and community groups throughout the province host ceremonies and events to mark the day.

This year, there is some good news on the health and safety front to celebrate nationally. However, in B.C., health and safety standards continue to be under attack from a government that considers safety regulations to be a form of unnecessary red tape.

On Nov. 7, 2003, Bill C-45 was proclaimed into law in Ottawa. Commonly known as the Westray bill, named after the mining disaster that killed 26 miners in Nova Scotia on May 9, 1992, the bill makes it a criminal offence for organizations to endanger the lives of their employees through the recklessness or negligence of their directors or officers.

This is an important step in the labour movement's ongoing campaign to make corporations accountable for conditions that endanger their employees.

In B.C., however, new standards proposed by the Workers' Compensation Board will further reduce protection for workers.

The WCB recently held public hearings, including one March 23 in Kelowna, on proposals to eliminate regulations covering violence in the workplace, noise vibration, ladders and scaffolds, radiation, temperature and fall protection.

"Cutting enforcement, in the guise of 'new flexible regulations' is putting more workers at risk," said Doran.

"The proposed changes have been driven by the provincial government's short-sighted view that all regulations are bad, and that more health and safety decisions should be left up to the employer," said Doran. "It's like saying we should get rid of the speed limit and let drivers decide how fast to drive."

Plans to reduce regulations dealing with ladders and scaffolds certainly hit close to home. In Kelowna last June, two workers were injured, after falling from a scaffold. They were fortunate that only a few broken bones was the result.

And workers are still dying on the job in the Okanagan. One, last June, was a Kelowna man who fell to his death down an elevator shaft at a Penticton construction site.

Provincial statistics show that in 2002:

- 232 workers were killed on the job,

- 5 workers between the ages of 15 and 24 died on the job,

- 159,000 workers reported work injuries, and

- 5,000 workers were permanently injured.

"Clearly much more work is required to ensure that workers return to their families at the end of a work day, healthy and safe. Fewer and flexible regulations are not the answer," concluded Doran.

In 2000, the NOLC purchased trees at Ben Lee Park and near the Veteran's Memorial in the Memory Lane linear park in Vernon as permanent markers for the Day of Mourning.

April 28 was chosen as the day of remembrance because this was the day that third reading took place for the first comprehensive Workers Compensation Act (Ontario 1914) in Canada. Parliament recognized the Day of Mourning in 1991. In 1992, the B.C. government designated April 28 as a day to remember those who have suffered as a result of the hazards of work.

The NOLC hosts or takes part in Day of Mourning ceremonies each year.

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