One of the first issues that trade unions fought for was the right to have a safe and healthy workplace. In fact, it is a primary reason that many workplaces organized because if your work is unsafe or unhealthy, then the risk is too great for personal injury and even loss of life. No one should die or be injured just for going to work.
Today, health and safety remains a priority issue for me and the Union of Health and Environment Workers. We have too many members who work in occupations and situations that need and must have protection to prevent serious injury. I think of the people who work in labs with dangerous chemicals or on ocean-going vessels or have to inspect polluted air or water. Our members who work in enforcement and have to deal with sometimes irate and often armed citizens who disagree with a government policy that UHEW members are simply trying to enforce.
That is one of the reasons that I have re-instated our National Occupational Health and Safety Committee. At our inaugural meeting on March 31 we started developing our priorities that will include ensuring that every UHEW Local and Region has an active and working health and safety committee. We will also be working to develop and distribute best practices to in this area to all UHEW members and to hold our departments and agencies respective feet to the fire when it comes to the safety of their workers.
Members of the Committee include our National Vice-President, Benoit Thibault who will be Chairing the Committee as well as Marc Blanchard, Rubin Kooner, Diane Girouard, Faye Kingyens, Richard May and myself, as ex-officio. The members of this Committee are all experienced in participating at workplace health & safety committees at the Local/Regional and National level and are all strong advocates for health and safety in the workplace.
The pandemic and Covid-19 brought a whole new range of health and safety issues to deal with. Myself and Brother Thibault spent many, many hours and days at the national level to establish and maintain the appropriate PPE protections for members. At the regional and local levels our National Council and Local Officers did the same. We had to ensure that all essential workers were fully protected, but we also had to deal with many concerns from UHEW members who now had to work from home. That meant lots of discussions about getting people the proper equipment to not just get the work done, but to protect them ergonomically. That work will continue and intensify as we start to move back to some version of post-pandemic normal.
In April every year the trade union movement, including PSAC and UHEW, takes a day, April 28, to commemorate workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related hazards and incidents. It’s called the National Day of Mourning and its theme for many years has been Mourn for the Dead and Fight for the Living. This year UHEW will join with PSAC and our union brothers and sisters to observe this important date. It is an important time as well to remember to stay vigilant and alert when it comes to health and safety in your own workplace. We can never take this for granted.
There may be in-person or virtual National Day of Mourning events in your community on April 28 and if there are, we encourage you to attend. We must continue to fight for the living, even as we mourn those we have lost.
Help us build UHEW together!!