Unfortunately, pointed out several speakers at the National Day of Mourning, there is still a need for a day of mourning.
Sunday’s event, meant to stress workplace safety, was hosted locally by the Nanaimo, Duncan and District Labour Council at Pioneer Plaza downtown.
“We all know that workplace accidents and illnesses are preventable – they should not happen,” said Ellen Oxman, the council’s president.
She said 149 workers in B.C. died in 2012 as a result of workplace accidents or illnesses. That’s seven more deaths than the year before and an unacceptable figure, said Oxman. She called for employers to be held criminally accountable and said that workplaces where accidents occur should be treated like crime scenes.
“Workplace policies are only as effective as the commitment [of] those who are tasked to enforce or comply with them,” she said.
Two guest speakers shared their personal stories at Sunday’s event. Mark Johnson lost the use of his left arm in a mill accident and Lynne Rozenboom was widowed when her husband was killed in a helicopter crash along power lines.
“Please keep your eyes and ears open to everything that’s going on around you,” said Rozenboom. “Please have the courage to stand up against ideas and processes that you believe are unsafe or wrong. And please stick your neck out and watch out for those people around you.”
The hundreds of dead garment factory workers in Bangladesh added some currency to the arguments on Sunday.
“It is happening all around us and we have a role to play,” said Doug Routley, who is running for re-election as the NDP MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan.
He said those killed in the workplace don’t need to die.
“We need to put a stop to that by linking arms in the community, in the province and throughout this globe,” Routley said. “It’s a continuous struggle … but we can do it as long as we work together.”
Bob Smits, administrator of the labour council, concluded with a quote sometimes attributed to American labour organizer Mary (Mother) Jones:
“It’s time to mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living,” he said.