Labour council president Ellen Oxman expresses a wish that next year there will be no workplace deaths to report. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Workplace bullying is new challenge for labour: Day of Mourning message

With heartfelt remembrances and hopes for a safer future, the Valley remembers fallen workers

Workplace bullying is the focus for Canada’s unions, Ellen Oxman, president of the Nanaimo, Duncan & District Labour Council, told the crowd at the Cowichan Valley’s Day of Mourning ceremony April 28.

Held at Lake Cowichan’s Forestworkers Memorial Park, the event moved under the gazebo roof this year as rain greeted the larger than usual crowd who turned out for the event.

Oxman read out the union movement’s statement for the National Day of Mourning, aimed at drawing attention to the significant number of people who have died, been seriously injured or made ill because of their work.

“We do this to demand action from government and to insist on increased vigilance from employers so that every worker comes home healthy and safe after a shift. In 2017, 198 B.C. workers were killed on the job or died from occupational diseases. That’s 198 too many — especially when we know every workplace death, injury or illness is preventable,” Oxman said.

“We must do better. We must ensure workers’ full, active participation in all aspects of health and safety in the workplace. We must hold employers to account when there is negligence, hold government and the regulator to account when there are weak laws and weak enforcement, and demand full compensation for workers and their families facing life-altering circumstances.

“This year we are also turning our attention to workplace violence, because for too many workers violence and harassment, including sexual harassment and intimate partner violence, is a common occurrence on the job. We all have a responsibility to challenge workplace violence and harassment when we see it — the labour movement, employers, the regulator and the government. Turning away perpetuates the problem, and works to silence the damage it has on people’s lives.

“On this National Day of Mourning, we remember all those who have lost their lives, been injured or become ill because of their work. And we honour the families, friends and co-workers who are left behind, or who must care for their family members who have been seriously injured or sick. And we recommit to doing everything we can to make B.C. workplaces healthier and safer. Today we will mourn for the dead, and fight for the living,” Oxman concluded.

Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest was among several people who also spoke at the ceremony, emotionally sharing how he came to lose his leg when, at age four, he climbed into a sawdust truck without the driver’s knowledge.

“I don’t blame the truck driver. He was doing his job. It wasn’t his fault. It was my fault. But I also recognize the impact it had on him. That’s what happens. That’s why people should be safe.” he said.

Lori Iannidinardo, who represented the CVRD at the event, said that many families have been severely affected by injuries as well as deaths in the forest industry.

“I was one of the lucky ones. We were one of the families who continue to support forestry workers and we still have forestry workers in our family.”

She said she hopes that by next year, there will be no more work-related deaths to report.

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Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest tells the story of how he lost his leg. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Forest worker and Lake Cowichan Coun. Tim McGonigle tells the crowd that they can buy bricks in the memorial park to remember loved ones. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

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