Message from Director Steve Hunt
APRIL 28TH Day of Mourning
Close to 1,000 workers in Canada die on the job every year.
Case after case shows that many of these deaths are preventable yet they still resulted in no Criminal Code charges, sometimes barely mustering a slap on the wrist or a fine that employers dismiss as the cost of doing business.
The law has been on the books since the United Steelworkers successfully lobbied to make the Westray Law a reality by making employer negligence contributing to a worker’s death or serious injury be treated as a criminal offence. But we have more work to do to make police, prosecutors and health and safety regulators aware and equipped to enforce it.
That is why we need to keep asking questions. Why are some police agencies willing to use the law while others are not? Why are health and safety agencies reluctant to work with police? Why are Crown attorneys avoiding prosecutions? When asked if we are “looking to put every CEO in jail?” – the answer is no. However, just like other criminal laws, we know the power of deterrence is critical to see the societal change necessary to keep our members and other workers alive.
We are starting to see progress being made with police protocols in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland- Labrador. Today we have witnessed the successful prosecution of criminal charges filed under the Westray Law. The work of USW activists and allies are making change a reality.
More charges are being laid across the country. More regulators and police are co-operating. Employers’ lawyers are warning them they too could face prosecution for failing to respect workers’ health and safety.
In British Columbia Premier John Horgan has pledged to ensure police and prosecutors have the resources they need to enforce the Westray Law. We are making change. But, as long as too many employers are still getting away with fines, the fight has to continue.
Without pressure from USW members across Canada, we know that workplace deaths will not get the law enforcement attention they deserve and Crown prosecutors will continue to treat this as a regulatory issue and not a criminal one.
It’s far from perfect, and more work remains to be done, but Steelworkers can be proud that they have improved and saved the lives of working Canadians, union and non-union alike. Equally important, we have trained hundreds of health and safety activists who work every day to keep our members safe. We’ve trained even more to lobby and be politically active to ensure workers’ voices are heard by politicians of every stripe. Because if we don’t fight, who will?
We know every day that the laws that protect workers’ health and safety are meaningless unless they are enforced. That is why we keep fighting. So this April 28th yes we mourn for the dead, but we will rededicate ourselves to continue to fight for the living and keep our members safe on the job.