By John Decaire, teacher and BC Labour Heritage Centre member, Surrey
In Canada today, close to a thousand workers die each year of work-related injury and illness. In BC alone, we average close to 150 work-related deaths each year. These numbers, tragic enough in themselves, become even more tragic when one discovers that, among the most developed countries of the world, Canada ranks near the bottom of the OECD ranking of member countries for workplace injury and illness.
In 1991 Parliament passed the Workers Mourning Day Act, and with this law, April 28 officially became the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured on the job. This national commemoration came about after years of lobbying and pressure from CUPE and the labour community. The Day of Mourning recognizes the grievous loss of so many people who have died just trying to provide for themselves and their families; it is also an important touchstone that can act to remind our society of the importance of workplace safety. Yet, despite the Day of Mourning’s importance, many people have never even heard of this commemoration.
For seven years now, The BC Labour Heritage Centre (BCLHC), has been trying to change this, by creating teaching materials that can be used in BC secondary schools on and around the Day of Mourning. In partnership with the BCTF, the BC Federation of Labour, WorkSafe BC, CUPE, the BC Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association, and the BC School Trustees Association, the BCLHC has created an entire program, complete with a variety of free teaching materials, that allows secondary teachers to bring a Day of Mourning commemoration to their school or classroom.
Why bring the Day of Mourning to BC schools? To not only remember lost workers, but to prepare the next generation of workers. Our materials are centred around the concept of teaching young people their legal workplace rights. It is our belief that knowing these rights can help keep them safe in their future workplaces. Something that is all the more import-ant when one knows that young workers, like your students with part-time jobs, are about 33% more likely to get injured while on the job. It is for this reason that we believe bringing the Day of Mourning to schools is so important—to keep our students safe.
This year, Wednesday, April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured on the Job. If you are interested in bringing the Day of Mourning to your school, please visit the Day of Mourning BC Schools Project site, www.domschools.ca, for all of our free, downloadable materials. Some of the materials include PA announcement scripts, lesson activities, videos, and more, all adaptable to your school’s needs and level of participation.