April 28 Day of Mourning: Remember Westray and press for justice for all workers killed or injured on the job.
This year marks 33 years since CUPE’s National Health and Safety Committee first proposed the idea of a National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.
April 28 was proclaimed by then-National President Jeff Rose at a health and safety conference in early 1985. In the same year, the Canadian Labour Congress and affiliated unions adopted the day across Canada. In many communities, local labour councils bring different unions together in ceremonies to honour workers who have been killed and injured – and to vow to stay vigilant.
On each Day of Mourning, CUPE honours the members who died on the job. Over the past year, CUPE lost the following members:
- Nicole Leblanc, Local 25, ON
- Saturnino Sonson, Local 30, AB
- Ben Melong, Local 30, AB
- Daphne Sandoval, Local 966, ON
- Wayne Harland, Local 500, MB
- Diane Chicoine, Local 416, ON
This year, workers across the country are marking the 25th anniversary of the terrible mining disaster in Westray, Nova Scotia, that killed 26 coal miners. Despite years of police investigations and a public inquiry, no one was ultimately held responsible for the miners’ deaths. This did not sit well with Canadians, however. Westray victims’ families, along with other workers and their unions, pressed for justice. In 2004, the federal government responded by introducing changes to Canada’s criminal code that hold employers responsible for negligence that leads to serious injury or death.
Sadly, in the thirteen years since these changes were made, over 10,700 people have died at work. Shockingly, only seven charges have been laid and only four convictions have been made. Just one person has gone to jail since the “Westray Law” was introduced in 2004.
This April 28, CUPE joins the Canadian Labour Congress in calling on the federal government to mark the 25th anniversary of the Westray disaster by enforcing the law of the land.
The federal government needs an action plan – urgently. The best way for the federal government to honour killed or injured workers is to work with the provinces and territories to:
- Train and direct Crown prosecutors to apply the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code.
- Train and direct the police and the RCMP to consider the possibility of criminal negligence whenever a worker is killed or seriously injured on the job.
- Appoint dedicated prosecutors for workplace health and safety fatalities.
- Ensure coordination among regulators, police and Crown attorneys so that health and safety regulators reach out to police when Westray charges may be warranted.
Workers and their families deserve an action plan that includes all this and more. Until then, CUPE and others will continue to press for justice.
Check with your local to find out where your region’s Day of Mourning service will be held.
Find out more at: rememberwestray.ca and sign the petition calling on the federal government to act.