A provincial election on the horizon had local labour leaders hoping for improved regulations and efforts for worker safety at Saturday’s Day of Mourning.
The event, now in its 34th year, is held by organized labour groups around the world to remember workers killed and injured in the workplace.
Roughly 40 people gathered outside Guelph City Hall then marched to nearby Goldie Mill Park where speakers talked of the need for improved safety measures in the workplace, then layed flowers and held a minute of silence to remember those killed and injured.
“That should be the number one priority for everybody and every party in this election,” said Guelph and District Labour Council President Janice Folk-Dawson.
Local Green Party candidate Mike Schreiner and NDP Candidate Aggie Mlynarz attended the event.
“We are one of 50 communities across Ontario that are marching to mark this day and we are with 100 other countries that are marking this day and paying attention to what’s happening to workers,” Folk-Dawson said.
“We are gathering to mourn those that have died and we are gathering to fight for the living.”
Goldie Mill has been the traditional site for the Day of Mourning in Guelph for a number of years, symbolic of the fact it is one of the oldest workplace sites in Guelph from its days as a mill.
Sarah Neath, a workers’ compensation representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said that there were 227 workplace fatalities happened in 2017 and 239,000 workers’ compensation claims.
“That seems like a staggering number to me,” Neath said.
She talked of a different kind of workplace danger at the Day of Mourning: harassment and bullying.
“One of the things that we’re celebrating today is that the CLC (Canadian Labour Congress) has acknowledged violence and harassment in the workplace and we want to show that this is not an inevitable component of the work,” Neath said.
“We know that this kind of violence exists. The problem we have is defining what violence and harassment is.”
She said the level of harassment and bullying in many workplaces is “astronomical” and that workers are committing suicide because of it.
“We want to break that silence on violence and harassment.”