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Day of Mourning Focused on COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety

April 28, 2020

Hundreds of members joined the Society of United Professionals' virtual Day of Mourning ceremony on April 28, 2020. The ceremony focused on workplace health and safety impacts COVID-19 is having on frontline health workers as well as other essential workers like grocery store clerks and Society members who contribute to keeping Ontario's lights on. Attendees participated in a moment of silence to remember the dead and undertake a personal commitment to fight for the living.

Listen to President Scott Travers' speech at the virtual ceremony in the video below or read his prepared remarks underneath the video.

President Scott Travers' Day of Mourning Remarks

Thank you for joining us to mark the Day of Mourning.

The vigils we are holding this year to mark the National Day of Mourning will be virtual – yet another way COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work.

Though we can’t gather in person this year, the enduring message of Day of Mourning – to mourn for the dead and fight for the living ­– is ever more meaningful.

Right now, millions of workers who have been deemed essential are risking their wellbeing every day.

Millions of people across the country go to their jobs hoping that others are taking all the right precautions.

We all read the story of Keith Saunders, who was exposed to COVID-19 at his job at a grocery store in Oshawa and passed away at the age of 48. Stories like this underscore the risk that many workers are undertaking to ensure that the essential services we all depend on continue during this pandemic.

We are still reeling at the accounts of care workers at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, where 29 of the 65 residents have died and 32 staff members have tested positive for the virus. These same workers are now reporting that no precautions were being taken and sick residents were not being separated from healthy ones until after 16 people had died.

Though Pinecrest was the first known long-term care home outbreak in Canada, Ontario alone now has 147 outbreaks in long-term care homes. Residents, their family members and staff have spoken out about the appalling living and working conditions in these homes during the pandemic. In fact, it is so bad that the Ontario Nurses Association won a court order last week to force one private company that runs long-term care homes to provide personal protective equipment.

Frontline health care workers, including nurses and personal support workers in long-term care homes, deserve our respect and support. They are the ones on the front lines and it’s our duty to stand up for them. Given recent announcements by the Ontario government, it is clear that public support is translating into better working conditions but there is still more to do.

While most Society members are able to work from home many of us cannot. Leaving home every day to report to an essential job puts our sisters and brothers at greater risk of contracting the virus. We owe it to all these workers to do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and make sure they know their rights and that we defend those rights.

Our three basic rights at work that are protected in health and safety statutes in every jurisdiction in Canada are:

  1. Right to know about the hazards in their workplace and receive the training they need to be able to do their jobs safely.
  2. Right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.
  3. Right to refuse work that could endanger their health and safety or that of others. The right to refuse is not the first step to protect workers. This is a serious, sometimes necessary step that no worker takes lightly.

These are not frivolous rights, nor can they be pushed aside in the face of a pandemic. In fact, this pandemic highlights where these rights need to be strengthened.

There are over 1,000 workers who lose their lives every year in this country and many more whose lives have been changed forever because of something that happened in the workplace.The best way to pay tribute to these workers is to do our best to protect others.

Once this crisis is over, we must recommit to fighting for fair wages, adequate paid sick leave and proper job protections.

As workers, retirees, leaders, activists and allies we must continue to come together to make every workplace safe and healthy for everyone. 

On this Day of Mourning and in the context of this global pandemic, we once again commit ourselves to mourn for the dead and fight for the living.

I now ask you to join me in standing for a moment of silence.

Thank you.

This concludes our Day of Mourning ceremony.

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