Canada’s unions call for ‘Safe work now!’

April 26, 2024

As workers across the country prepare to mark the National Day of Mourning on April 28, Canada’s unions are calling on employers and governments to prioritize worker safety. This year’s demand for “Safe work now!” is a call to action for employers and governments to make work and workplaces truly safe spaces for all workers.

“Too many workers are still dying, getting injured or getting sick from work and year in and year out, these numbers are not going down. That is unacceptable because every death and injury is preventable. Employers and our governments are not doing enough to keep workers safe on the job. Workers and their loved ones can’t afford to wait for action,” said Bea Bruske, President of the CLC. “When you know better, you do better. It’s been twenty years since the Westray Law was brought into effect. It’s past time for Canada to do better to keep everyone safe.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Westray Law. Following the Westray mine disaster, Canada’s unions – led by the United Steelworkers – lobbied for change, so that employers could be convicted of criminal negligence. In 2004, the Westray sections of the Criminal Code of Canada were brought into effect, allowing for corporations to be held criminally liable for workplace deaths and injuries.

However, since its inception, only a handful of criminal charges have been laid due to inconsistent and insufficient enforcement of the law. Most of these cases resulted in fines, which major corporations can easily pay. Political leaders also still defer to business interests by weakening health and safety legislation, both provincially and federally.

Across Canada, in 2022 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – there were 993 accepted workplace fatalities and 348,747 accepted lost time claims.

“We know these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Many injuries, illnesses, and even cases of death from work are not included in these numbers. But did you know that you’re fifty percent more likely to die from a workplace incident than by homicide? And when a person dies by homicide, someone is held criminally responsible. So why are so many workers still dying on the job while potentially negligent employers are moving on as if nothing happened? A simple slap on the wrist doesn’t deter negligent bosses from putting profits over people. Paying a measly fine is not an acceptable consequence to costing someone their life, or their health,” said Bruske.

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