National Day of Mourning

Labour Views April  22, 2015
Written by Gayla Thunstrom , Acting  President, Northern Territories Federation of Labour

As we approach the April 28 National Day of Mourning for persons killed or injured in the workplace, it’s important to remember again why unions are so important.

Unions save lives.

Fewer people are dying today in their workplaces because of those men and women who fought, and struggled, protested, and picketed — and yes, who were injured or killed while doing their jobs.  As a result of their victories and sacrifices, we are not only better off economically and socially.  We are safer. And to the dead and injured, and to the surviving veterans of social progress, we owe an immense debt.

But these struggles are by no means over. The federal government in particular has introduced  anti-union laws, in spite of the evidence of the ongoing need for the social, economic and workplace gains that unions won for all of us, and continue to advocate for.

The proof that the need for these protections still exists confronts us all too frequently.  People still die as a result of workplace fatalities or occupational disease.

There’s little doubt that the increasing proportion of part-time, non-union jobs, are contributing to the rise of insecure work.  Precarious working conditions impact not just economic well-being and job security, but social and personal lives too. Household stress is increasing, and people are indicating they have less and less time for community involvement.

More than 80 per cent of those people who are precariously employed have no benefits.  This makes them even more vulnerable to the disastrous consequences of  illness or injury.

In spite of insistence by governments and business that unions  have “outlived their usefulness,” the continuing tragedies of illness and injury confirm that when it comes to workplace safety, unions are often the ultimate source of protection left to workers.  Unions save lives.

The National Day of Mourning is a painful reminder that this struggle is not over, that many lives were lost along the way, and that the unchecked push to maximize corporate profits too often overrides the basic health and wellbeing of the very people on whom much of that profit depends.

April 28 is also an opportunity to honour the workers who, while doing their jobs, sacrificed life and limb.  The struggles of unions to reduce death and suffering has resulted in legislation to save lives.  Those who lead these struggles deserve our respect and our gratitude, as do those who continue to fight on our behalf for better, safer, more secure workplaces and the higher quality of life that they bring.

Please join us at the Legislative Assembly at noon on Tuesday April 28 to recognize the  five workers who lost their lives last year in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut,  and to remember the countless workers who have been killed, injured, or become ill as a result of their workplaces over the years.

Let’s  pause and remember the sacrifices of the past, and commit ourselves to the continuing fight for safer work.