Thoughts on the National Day of Mourning
Christine Davies on Bangladesh, workplace safety and the National Day of Mourning
April 28 is the National Day of Mourning, recognizing workers who have been killed or injured at work. The event is commemorated in Canada and many countries around the world.
This year, the event took on additional significance with the recent news that over 370 garment workers were killed when an unsafe compound containing several factories collapsed. Joe Fresh garments were produced at these facilities. This horrible news comes just months after a major fire killed over 100 Bangladeshi garment workers in December 2012. Workers at that factory made products for major North American retailers including Walmart and Sears. According to the New York Times, Walmart played a role in blocking efforts to increase prices for apparel so that factories could improve safety standards.
Clearly, workplace safety must be improved for workers in Bangladesh. Equally important is the need to improve and enforce labour laws in that country, where collective agreements are rare, and workers have died trying to organize unions in the garment industry. History tells us that unions have the potential to help workers enforce safety standards and to prevent tragedies.
In the aftermath of these incidents, we all have a responsibility to keep pressure on companies to improve their labour practices and standards to prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries.
Here in Canada, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety, there are nearly 1,000 workplace deaths per year. Statistics from the Ministry of Labour reveal many six-figure fines against companies that have had workplace deaths. Recent fines from the past few months have included:
- $85,000 against Island Steel Erectors Limited after a worker was crushed when bundled steel frames were improperly moved
- $100,000 against APCO Industries Co. Ltd. after a worker without any fall protection fell through a skylight to his death
- $100,000 against ECA Canada Company after a worker was killed by large casings that were not chocked or wedged to prevent motion
- $175,000 against Brewers Retail Inc. after a worker died following drinking from a bottle with a liquor label that in fact had methanol windshield washer fluid in it.
These events serve as a grim reminder of the ongoing need to ensure all workers in Canada and around the world labour in safe conditions. Safety must be treated as a first priority, integrated into all decision-making, and not an afterthought.