Labour Views column for April 16, 2014

Written by Mary Lou Cherwaty, President of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour

“30 Years Later, We Still Mourn”

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.  The National Day of Mourning was first declared in 1984 by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).  The date, April 28 was picked because it was this day in 1914 that the Workers’ Compensation Act received its third reading.  In December 1990, the Workers Mourning Day Act was passed, officially recognizing April 28 as a National observance.

When the CLC initiated the National Day of Mourning, it was hoped that by bringing National attention to the carnage in our workplaces, governments and employers would take action to put an end to the outrageous number of deaths and workplace injuries. Unfortunately, over the last 30 years, this hasn’t been the case.

Here in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, in 2013 alone, 7 workers died due to work-related causes; and 899 workers had claims for lost time due to work-related injuries or illnesses. This does not include claims that were either suppressed or not accepted, so the numbers would actually be higher.

Strong provisions in laws, collective agreements, or workplace policies are only as effective as the commitment of those who are tasked to enforce or comply with them.  Injuries and deaths in the workplace are preventable. Workplace parties must commit to a culture of “Safety First”.  Safety FIRST – not if it’s affordable, not if it’s convenient, not if it doesn’t interfere with production, but – ALWAYS!

The following poem, written by Don Merril, highlights the importance of a workplace safety culture:

I Chose to Look the Other Way

I could have saved a life that day,

But I chose to look the other way.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care,

I had the time, and I was there.


But I didn’t want to seem the fool,

Or argue over a safety rule.

I knew he had done the job before,

If I called it wrong, he might get sore.


The chances didn’t seem that bad,

I’ve done the same, he knew I had.

So I shook my head and walked on by,

He knew the risks as well as I.


He took that chance, I closed an eye,

And with that act, I let him die.

I could have saved a life that day,

But I chose to look the other way.


Now every time I see his wife,

I’ll know I should have saved his life.

That guilt is something I must bear,

But it isn’t something you need to share.


If you see a risk, that others take,

That puts their health or life at stake.

The questions asked, or things you say,

Could help them live another day.


If you see a risk and walk away,

Then hope you never have to say,

I could have saved a life that day

But I chose to look the other way.

 Please join us at the Legislative Assembly at noon in both the NWT and Nunavut, on Monday April 28 to recognize the seven workers who lost their lives last year in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut; and to remember the countless workers who have been killed, injured, or become ill as a result of their workplaces over the years.