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This article was published 26/4/2018 (810 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Saturday, families of workers who have been killed or injured on the job will be commemorating their loved ones on the annual Day of Mourning, and many will join Canada’s unions again in calling for better protections for the living.
In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, this important tradition takes on an added dimension, providing the opportunity to more widely address violence and harassment in the workplace.
For decades, the focus of this solemn day understandably has been on workplace accidents and exposure to dangerous materials such as asbestos. According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, there were 905 reported workplace deaths in 2016, and more than 241,508 claims accepted for lost time due to work-related injury or disease.
Many tragic stories of loss and hurt will be highlighted on the Day of Mourning, including ones such as those currently featured by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
The stories recall a pilot whose plane crashed during a routine flight, a young woman who fell off a scaffold to her death and a father who succumbed to cancer after a tiny piece of asbestos entered his body.
Far too many workers have perished on the job.
One way we honour their memories is to do all we can to make sure no one else’s family has to say goodbye prematurely, or struggle to care for a loved one. It also means we must break the silence on violence and harassment in the workplace to better understand and prevent the full range of harmful behaviour that can occur.
Without these critical conversations, employers and governments will have little incentive to act.
Take the heartbreaking case of the late Eric Donavan of Hazelbrook, P.E.I. The 47-year-old man had worked for more than 17 years with a non-profit organization.
By all accounts, he loved his work until a supervisor began to bully and harass him severely. He became increasingly anxious and stressed, eventually dying as a result of cardiac arrest.
After a three-year battle, the Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island accepted the arguments of Donovan’s wife and doctor and awarded the family compensation. His case represents one of the rare glimpses into understanding the toll that workplace bullying and harassment can take.
"It’s astonishing how many people are saying that they have been in workplaces where there has been consistent, health-threatening and health-injurious bullying and where nothing has been done by supervisors," said the family’s lawyer, James W. Macnutt.
Earlier this year, a Saskatchewan family similarly received compensation after arguing that workplace bullying led to their loved one’s suicide.
The situation is acute for female workers, many of whom are working in caregiving professions — including nurses, personal support workers and teachers.
Women are too often the target of workplace violence and harassment, including sexual and physical harassment or violence. Another risk is that domestic violence may also follow women to work. For some, the outcome can be fatal.
On this Day of Mourning, Canada’s unions are urging workers to seek support if they are the victims of violence and harassment. This impacts every sector.
For instance, a 2017 Public Service Employee Survey found that 18 per cent of public servants reported being harassed at work in the preceding two years. For frontline workers — including bus drivers, paramedics, flight attendants, call-centre workers and many others, particularly those who work alone — the dangers are significant.
Working with Canada’s unions and employers, the federal government has developed strong regulations on workplace violence. Federal Bill C-65 promises, finally, to address sexual harassment as a workplace hazard.
However, workers also are calling for other new measures: whistleblower protection, to protect complainants from reprisal; the hiring of properly trained federal health and safety officers in appropriate numbers; and the recognition of domestic violence as a workplace hazard, as Ontario explicitly wrote into legislation following the workplace murders of Lori Dupont and Theresa Vince.
It’s time collectively to renew our commitment to ensuring that all workers are safe and supported at work.
Hassan Yussuff is president of the Canadian Labour Congress.
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