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Fallen workers remembered



Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by the loss of four RCMP members in Alberta last month. In the days that followed this event, I was overcome by the seemingly constant media coverage that this tragedy was generating.

This visceral feeling of uneasiness kept building until the day of the memorial. The ceremony was covered live in its entirety by most radio and television stations. I had reached the saturation point. I couldn't watch or listen any more. I was angry but I didn't know at whom, at what, or why.

The following Sunday was a beautiful warm sunny day in Squamish. I love to run our local trails and I was anxious to get out and enjoy the weather, but first, I had a task to do downtown. I had to take some measurements for a third plaque to be added to the Workers' Memorial Monument.

Each time I visit the monument all of the memories of how it came into being come flooding back: the elation we all felt as members of the Squamish & District Labour Committee when city council asked us to erect a monument and plaque dedicated to workers who died on the job; the pride in our entire community as individuals, unions, companies and city council came together so supportively to donate time, materials and money to make this happen; the Day of Mourning Ceremony two years later when a second plaque was added, honouring the names of 26 Squamish workers.

More thoughts flowed later in the day when I went for my run. I thought of our RCMP officer, Constable Wael Audi, and how he died in his car pursuing a speeder. I thought of the two railway workers who died working for the same company that I did. I thought of the rest of the workers, mostly loggers, who died in the industry that has sustained our community for over a hundred years. I thought of the families who returned to Squamish from all over B.C. for the dedication of the plaque to their loved ones. I thought of how, despite a press release and direct contact with several outlets, no one showed up from the media. Then it all became crystal clear.

I was upset at the incredible disparity between the recognition given to workers who die preserving our society and that given to those who build it. I recalled the 9/11 disaster and the outpouring of sympathy and support for families of those victims. They died as the buildings came down, but, except for families and friends, no one remembers the workers who die as buildings go up. The families of all workers who die in the performance of their job need recognition and support. Some of the families who attended our ceremony had been waiting up to 50 years for this acknowledgment. Four families lost two members. Some families return every year for our ceremony. It comforts them to see the name of their loved one, cast in bronze, set in stone, perpetually visible.

As I neared the end of my run, my thoughts became focused around this year's ceremony. This year we are adding a plaque with the names of six workers: Vincent Richards, Joseph Kostiuk, George Ciechanowski, Steve Monk, Raymond McCrae and John Bruntjen.

Three of these names came to our attention after the last plaque was cast. The other three names were requested by the families of chemical workers who died of cancer. WCB won't recognize the cause of their deaths but we must acknowledge the families' need for recognition and support. I hope that this year we can get the media out to support these families.

We all feel a sense of helplessness every time we hear tragic news. As Canadians, the deaths of RCMP officers hit us hard. There is the connection, from our earliest history, of them protecting our society. As I realize this, I also realize that I am not at all upset at the amount of media coverage given to these officers. The extensive coverage of these tragedies serves to comfort their families, and all of us, and is fully deserved. April 28 is the nationally recognized Day of Mourning to honour workers who have died as a result of a workplace death or occupational disease. Let us not forget the families of those workers who died building the society that our police, firefighters and others serve to protect.

Paul Harrington


Mourn the dead, fight for the living


Every year on April 28, the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured on the Job is observed worldwide by unions, labour councils, municipalities and national governments. And every year we commit to do more to protect the lives and livelihoods of workers. And every year the numbers go up - more workers inured, more workers killed.

Last year, the BC Workers Compensation Board accepted 134 work-related fatality claims. Fifty-one of those deaths were the result of occupational diseases. Eight of the killed were young workers (age 15-24).And we know that these figures underestimate the real numbers, as many deaths don't appear in the statistical reports. Many are either not accepted as workplace deaths or were deaths from occupational illness or diseases not yet recognized as having roots in the workplace.

The last four years have been especially dangerous for BC workers. Under the Campbell Liberal government, 550 staff were cut at the Workers' Compensation Board, services for injured workers have been removed, and compensation and benefits for workers injured on the job have been cut as have pensions paid to workers with a work-related permanent disability. There have been deep cuts in regulations and resources for workplace health and safety. One third of the staff positions at the Employment Standards Branch were deleted. Non-unionized workers facing unfair treatment at work are now on their own with a "self-help" kit available in English only. Finally, B.C. now has the dubious honour of having the weakest child labour laws in North America.

The official theme for this year's National Day of Mourning is "Save Lives - Enforce Health & Safety Legislation." This theme is especially significant for workers in B.C. The BC Liberal government, in its desire to cut "red tape" and all government regulations by one-third, directed the WCB to cut health and safety regulations and to water down the remaining regulations by making them performance-based.

Performance-based regulations are very general and open for interpretation, leaving it up to the employer to determine what steps they will take to implement the regulations. This is in contrast to prescriptive-based regulations, that inform employers clearly of the steps they must take. Workers should not have to rely on the good nature of their employer to do the right thing. Employers must be required to implement regulations that we know save workers' lives and the WCB must ensure they comply.

The Squamish and District Labour Committee is asking that our partners in business and local government join us. Together we must demand that senior levels of governments retain, strengthen and enforce regulations that protect workers' health and lives.

The fact that workers have a right to come home safe and healthy to their families at the end of their workday must become more than a slogan that governments pay lip-service to once a year. While we pay tribute to workers who died or were injured on the job, we must also reconfirm our commitment to fight to prevent these unnecessary deaths and injuries.

Yes, mourn for the dead. But more important, let's fight for the living.

Sandy Bauer, President

Squamish and District Labour Committee

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