National Day of Mourning: Unions urge us to mourn the dead and fight for the living

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Workers across Canada and around the world today stand united in the fight for better health and safety in the workplace.

The National Day of Mourning, also recognized as International Workers' Memorial Day, is commemorated on April 28 each year, and is dedicated to those killed and injured due to unsafe work practices.

Today is its 25th anniversary in Canada, with unions choosing to join together and support a comprehensive ban on asbestos.

The funeral of the most recent Canadian worker killed on the job -- Toronto Pearson International Airport worker Ian Henrey-Pervez -- is also due to take place today.

Pervez, 24, was killed on Friday night after the baggage cart he was driving rolled.

According to his union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers, Pervez was recently engaged and had been working for Air Canada for about nine months.

He will be remembered -- alongside the thousands of other workers who lost their lives, were injured and became sick because of their jobs -- at ceremonies across the country today.

Others who died this year because of their work include veteran New Brunswick firefighter Robert Berryman, 61.

Berryman, served with the Fredericton Fire Department for nearly 35 years and died in March of throat cancer. His death is considered "a Line of Duty" death because his throat cancer is believed to developed because of his firefighting career.

Welder Jamie Paris, 29, also died last month after falling about 20 metres from scaffolding at a TransCanada pipeline construction site in northern Alberta.

Paris was a contractor of Calgary-based company Horton CBI Ltd at the time.

In Alberta alone, 125 men and women were killed on the job in 2015.

In January, two deaths at a United Gateway Logistics lumber yard in New Westminster, B.C. reignited debate about workplace health and safety regulations after it was found the export lumber reload company had multiple previous occupational health and safety violations.

The bodies of the two men killed, Guiming Chen, 65, and Yun Zhao Yang, 60, were found under a pile of lumber that appeared to have crushed them.

Tammy Le, 25, a sex trade worker, was found murdered in a hotel room in January.

The suspect in her murder was found dead not long after. Sex workers have been bound up by the Conservatives' Bill C-36, which has continued to criminalize sex workers' work while providing little else by way of safety or protection.

Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Hassan Yusuff said unions have decided this year to rally behind a nationwide ban on asbestos because it was the leading cause of work-related death in Canada.

According to the CLC, more than 2,000 Canadians die every year from diseases related to asbestos exposure like mesothelioma and lung cancer. The number of deaths from mesothelioma also increased by 60 per cent between 2000 and 2012.

Yussuff, who was exposed to asbestos in brake pedals during the 22 years he worked as a mechanic, said because the number of imported products into Canada continues to increase, banning asbestos and minimizing the risk around its exposure needed to be a top priority.

"We are calling on the federal government to commit to a comprehensive ban on all kinds of asbestos and to outline its plans for doing so before Parliament rises for its summer recess."

Between 2011 and 2015, asbestos imports to Canada grew from $4.7 million to $8.2 million.

Killed on the job in Canada

  • 919 workers died on the job in 2014 -- more than two deaths a day
  • 13 of these workers were aged 15 to 19
  • 25 were aged 20 to 24
  • In addition to this, 239,643 claims were accepted by compensation boards for lost time due to work-related injury or disease that year.

Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year. 

Source: Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada - most recent figures available.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this piece mispelled the name of Ian Henrey-Pervez. This has been corrected and we regret the error.

Photo: flickr/iwishmynamewasmarsha

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