USW Local 6166

2016 National Day of Mourning Speech by USW Local 6166 President Les Ellsworth

National Day of Mourning 2016

April 28, 2016

Good Evening Sisters, Brothers and Honoured Guests,

Welcome to our annual Day of Mourning Service. I am honoured and privileged to bring greetings on behalf of our members. This type of event does not take place without an organized team. Before I get into my message, I want to thank Brother Torrance Sukhbir, Worker Safety Representative in Maintenance, Utilities, Transportation and his committee for co-ordinating this event. I would also like to thank Brother Gord Medwid, Vice-President of USW Local 6166 and Worker Safety Representative for the Smelter for co-ordinating the Safe Workers of Tomorrow Program for the Frontier School Division. We also have a long history of working together with Vale to ensure that our young people, in particular, the High School students are presented the Safe Workers of Tomorrow program. This program is to ensure they understand their rights when they enter the workplace of their choice. This program has been supported both financially and with manpower in the past, by our partners in safety – VALE (this program is currently presented by presenters from Safe Workers of Tomorrow). They are to be commended for their foresight in supporting our young workers in this very important program.

We have always believed this program to be the prevention plan for our young people, before they become more heavily involved in various workplaces both in and outside Thompson. The stories we have heard over the years from our young people, with regards to the tools we have given them through this program, have prevented injuries and in some cases – fatalities. We continue to present to the Frontier School Division throughout the year and we have seen many young people from Northern Manitoba employed by Vale in the last couple of years. Again, thank you to those who have helped make the Safe Workers of Tomorrow Program what it is today. Since our last Day of Mourning, there has been one reported fatality of a young worker in this province. Despite this, I believe we are making a difference in our high school education program.

A special thank you to Perry Oxford, the Divisional Environment Health and Safety Chair for USW 6166 for his commitment, along with our full time Worker Safety Representatives and activists, who help bring our members home to their families at the end of the work day. Thank you to our Union leadership as well, because we do not only help out members in our own Union, but many within this city who come to us for information or guidance. It is obvious to me and others, who live in Thompson; there are a lot of workplaces that have little or no understanding of the employers’ role and responsibilities under legislation. I do not believe any employer in Thompson would purposefully ignore the law. Consequently, they are putting themselves at risk. We need to do more as government, Unions, and employers. Our goal is “Zero” harm.

Thank you for joining us in honouring those who have been injured or killed in the workplace. To the guests who have addressed this service and to those who sent regrets, on behalf of the Executive Committee and members of the United Steelworkers, Local 6166, a heartfelt thank you for your support.

I will also take this opportunity to recognize our partners in Environment, Health, and Safety - Vale, Mark Scott, Vice-President of the Manitoba Operations and Kirk Regular, Manager Human Resources, Safety, Health and Environment, for your continued support it is greatly appreciated. Kirk, I appreciate your kind words. Thank you Mayor Dennis Fenske for the kind and supportive remarks and Pastor Murat Kuntel of the Presbyterian Church for your message and prayer for all workers, regardless of the field they work in. Thank you also to Steve Ashton, MLA, who, I know, has personally worked very hard within the NDP Caucus to ensure workers’ issues are heard (I wish you the best in your future endeavours).

I would also like to thank Niki Ashton, MP for Churchill, who is and will in the future, work hard at the federal level to ensure workers have the supportive legislation required to bring them home safely at the end of the day. I would also like to thank the RCMP for representing the men and women who continually put their lives on the line to protect citizens in this country. I would also like to recognize our Thompson Emergency Services (Fire and Ambulance) for their dedication to all citizens and workers of this great community.

Every year, we commemorate April 28 as a day to remember those who have been killed or have died from occupational diseases. For many of us, it is a very personal experience. It could be someone we may have worked with or someone we may have known who was killed at work. I have always had a personal interest in safety because of tragedies in my own family. I felt betrayed as a young man and I know the pain and suffering a family goes through when they lose a loved one. I believe no worker should go to work to become injured or become sick from the workplace. Chances are, if an accident or a close call has not happened to you directly, then you know someone for whom it has. An accident at work can happen to any one of us and the effects can be devastating. The price to pay in suffering, change of work and lifestyle is enormous.

Commemoration is important. It reminds us our efforts to work safely and to encourage our employers to make work safer has a deeper meaning.

It was the late Dick Martin, Steelworker and past President of Local 6166 who eventually became the President of the Manitoba Federation of Labour and Secretary Treasurer of the CLC, who first suggested Rod Murphy, a former MP, prepare a private member’s bill on what became the Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured while working. The bill, which eventually became law 25 years ago, also recognized those who would suffer long-term effects from diseases caused by harmful chemicals, etc., in the workplace. This year, Canadian Unions are calling for a national ban on asbestos, a known killer that causes disease, suffering and death-all of it preventable. More than 2000 people die every year in Canada from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. It is the number one cause of occupational death in Canada. We want the federal government to pass legislation that outlaws the use, exportation, and import of asbestos. Thank you Rod for putting the Bill forward and seeing it through to reality.
It is not a moment just to remember - as important as that is. It is a moment to remind us the struggle continues, the fight remains and most importantly, education is what today is all about.

Many of our existing health and safety laws are only here because someone died, and someone else fought to ensure it won’t happen again. We can’t stop fighting for safer workplaces.

Remember our history as well. United Steelworkers fought for and won the right to participate, know and to refuse, we fought for the Westray Law (known as Bill-C45) and we are continuing to fight and lobby all levels of Government to “Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law”. Those laws are not only for our members, but all workers in Canada. In our local unions, our members have fought and won many rights to protect our members and made our workplaces much safer than before.

We know accidents can and will happen in our type of work. However, we must acknowledge our mistakes and put safeguards in place to make sure it never happens again. We must continue as two Organizations (Vale and USW Local 6166) to be committed towards a safer and healthier workplace for all.

The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) tell us that in 2014, 919 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada - more than 2.5 deaths every single day. Among the 919 dead were thirteen young workers aged fifteen to nineteen years; and another twenty-five workers aged twenty to twenty-four years.

Add to these fatalities the 239,643 claims accepted for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease. Including 7,998 from young workers aged fifteen to nineteen, and the fact that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by the compensation boards, and the situation is even direr.

What these numbers don't show is just how many people are directly affected by these workplace tragedies. Each worker death impacts the loved ones, families, friends and coworkers they leave behind, changing all of their lives forever.

In 2015, there were 4 reported USW District 3 members killed on the job in Canada. In Manitoba alone, there have been 20 workers killed on the job since April 28, 2015.

We see the carnage continuing across the world in the mining sector.

In the last few months, we have seen our world plunged into a recession, the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. Many have lost their jobs worldwide and the pressure put on families and communities is unparallel to anything we have seen in decades. In Thompson and Manitoba, in general, I believe through a lot of work, we have not felt the effects like the rest of our country and the world. In saying this, I believe there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the workplace with regards to work overload and the uncertainty of if there will be a job there tomorrow or not because of the tremendous downturn in the economy. More than ever we need to strive to ensure our members come home safely at the end of their work day.

In closing, Our Union is committed to concrete action to protect the Health, Safety and Environment of our members and of all workers. We can make a difference at work, in the community and in the legislature (I would hope with the new change of Governments we continue to improve the laws, not weaken). Let us commit ourselves to do everything we can to work towards “Zero” workplace injuries and fatalities.

National Day of Mourning Speakers

Let’s continue to mourn the dead, but fight for the living!

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