Day of Mourning honours those lost, acts as reminder to fight for the rights of the living

When Avneet Sidhu was seven years old, her mother was killed in a car wreck while being transported to a farm job in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. Several others died and 14 were left with lifelong injuries.

“It wasn’t until I was 13 that I began to piece together why or how this had happened,” said Sidhu in a video speech for B.C.’s Day of Mourning.  “And it was not until I was 17 that I began to understand the nature of society and the role of the blue-collar worker that was heavily dismissed as replaceable and unimportant.”

Sidhu explained no effort was made to ensure that farm workers were transported safely. The aging van had no seatbelts and had been modified to fit 21 people. The driver was not properly licensed and was using their phone during the wreck. Sidhu said she has grown to believe that blue-collar workers, especially immigrants, are conditioned to believe working hard will get them ahead, but few are able to escape.

She added putting one’s work at the centre of life is a mistake.

“If there is anything to take away from my situation it is to understand that work should not become life,” she said. “What truly matters is what you cannot get from monetary gain – like family and good friends.”

Sidhu and her father have spent years advocating for workers rights and safety.

The virtual event also featured comments from government officials, like Labour Minister Harry Bains.

“Today we reflect on the tragedy of lives lost or forever changed by workplace injury and illness,” said Bains. “I offer my deepest condolences to those who have lost their loved ones and to those who continue to suffer from illness or injury caused by their work”

Bains asked all workers and employers in B.C. to join him in promoting a culture of safety in every workplace.

Anne Naser, president and CEO of WorkSafeBC, noted last year 151 of the province’s workers lost their lives because of their work. This is an increase from the 140 work-related deaths in 2019.

“We are challenged today, more so than ever, with complex workplace issues like bullying and harassment, discrimination, fatigue and mental health – the effects of which are often unseen,” said Naser. “No matter what the industry or circumstance, employers must setup and maintain appropriate health and safety plans and workers need to understand and follow those plans, even as circumstances change. We have seen the importance of this as we navigate the complexities of the current pandemic.”

Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said the Day of Mourning is a time to remember those who have been lost, but every day is the time to fight for the rights of the living.

“We are here today because every worker deserves to come home safe every day and because not enough do,” said Cronk, who noted that presumptive COVID-19 coverage and compensation improvements from Bill 23 are encouraging. “But we have much more to do before we have a workers’ compensation system that is truly worker-centred, a lot further to go before every workplace is a safe workplace, far more progress to make before anyone who would place a worker’s safety in jeopardy is held to account.”

The virtual ceremony included a moment of silence and the names of those who were lost due to workplace injuries or illness in 2020 were displayed. In 2020 there were 29 work-related death claims for general construction, one for heavy construction and one for road construction.

A video of the full ceremony is available here: https://bit.ly/3aL2Q76