Workers who have been killed on the job or have suffered work-related injury or disease were commemorated Thursday on the annual National Day of Mourning.
To mark the day, flags on Parliament Hill are flying at half-mast, the CN Tower will be lit in yellow at sunset, and people across the country are attending ceremonies, lighting candles, laying wreaths, and donning ribbons, pins, and black armbands.
In London, the London and District Labour Council held a Day of Mourning service at their headquarters on Adelaide Street Thursday morning.
The day, which was first observed in Canada in 1984 and became a national observance in 1991 with the Workers Mourning Day Act, is also commemorated in over 100 other countries as Workers’ Memorial Day, or International Commemoration Day (ICD) for Dead and Injured.
According to the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, 226 workers reportedly lost their lives in 2015 because of workplace accidents or occupational disease. Roughly 230,000 workers in the province are injured or become ill at work every year.
In 2014, 919 workplace deaths were recorded across the country, and nearly 240,000 claims were accepted for lost time for work-related injury or disease, according to the most recent statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada.
“This is an ongoing fight, we fight in every unionized workplace for health and safety standards,” said Patti Dalton, President of the London and District Labour Council. “This day is a really significant commemoration day, and a sign of that, a symbol of that ongoing work that we are doing.”
The theme for this year’s Day of Mourning is asbestos. Both provincial and federal labour groups have called for Ottawa to issue a total ban on the cancer-causing minerals, which have earned a reputation as the number-one workplace killer.
According to the Ontario Federation of Labour, it’s estimated that around 145,000 Canadian workers are exposed to asbestos in their workplaces every year, and over 2,000 are diagnosed with often fatal diseases including lung cancer.
“Deaths from disease related to asbestos increased 60 per cent between 2000 and 2012,” said Dalton. “Those are very shocking figures.”
Dalton says that although the mining and exporting of asbestos was banned in 2011, Canada continues to import products containing asbestos.
“Fifty-six other countries have banned asbestos, that’s what we’re calling for here,” Dalton said. “According to Statistics Canada, the bulk of imported asbestos consists of replacement asbestos brake linings and pads, and yet alternative and asbestos-free brake pads are already manufactured in Guelph.”
“A ban on asbestos not only means a radical reduction in workplace-related deadly disease, but it would mean jobs, and safe jobs, and safe materials for Canadians,” said Dalton.
Dalton welcomes residents contact the Labour Council for information on how they can help lobby the federal government for a total ban on asbestos.
(With files from Matthew Trevithick, Natalie Lovie)