Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath on the National Day Of Mourning

I’m honoured to stand in this House today and speak on behalf of the Ontario NDP caucus, as New Democrats join with workers across Ontario to mark the National Day of Mourning.

Today, we stand with friends and families to remember those who have been injured, maimed or killed on the job.

We all have a responsibility to make sure that when the workday ends, every worker makes it home safely.

In Ontario every year, hundreds of people are killed on the job, thousands are injured, and countless more people have to deal with complications due to work-related environmental illnesses and trauma that they experience on the job. There is an epidemic of injuries and death in the workplaces of this province, particularly facing young workers who are just starting out in their lives and begin their time in the workforce with a tragedy that ends in either loss of life or significant problems that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

 

Speaker, what this reflects is an abysmal failure of public policy and a culture of workplace acceptance of the expendability of workers, and we continue to allow that to persist here in this province. It is absolutely unacceptable, and it is what causes a trend of unacceptably high numbers of deaths that continue to this day, notwithstanding the fact that year in and year out we all get up in this chamber and rue the reality that we have here in Ontario.

In 2014, 233 Ontarians lost their lives at work. It’s far too many people.

As a province, we have a duty to honour our obligations to these workers and to all workers, and we do this by actually ensuring that workplace safety standards reflect the changing nature of our workplaces, in traditionally hazardous fields—for example, construction, which continues to be a killer, manufacturing, mining, forestry, and other hazardous workplaces—and in occupations such as nursing and corrections.

Conditions are so bad in corrections—and we’ve seen it play out here in this province recently—that the workers in those institutions actually have T-shirts made that say “Job #1: Everyone goes home.” That’s how dangerous a workplace this government has allowed those corrections facilities to become. That’s where action needs to happen. That’s where the obligation of government needs to start: in the government’s own workplaces here.

It’s the same thing in hospitals. I was shocked to visit with nurses in southwestern Ontario and receive a chart that shows the number of injuries that occur in nursing, that I’m sure people aren’t even aware of, the number of injuries around workplace violence, around exposures, around falls. It is a violent workplace that our health care professionals work in, and it’s something that government needs to do something about, not just talk about it once a year when it comes to the National Day of Mourning.

But we also have to have safety standards that reflect the rise of part-time and precarious work that has occurred under this Liberal government, which is leaving far too many workers vulnerable to greater workplace risks and leaves them less able to speak up about workplace safety for fear of losing their jobs—another whole sector of workers who are vulnerable because of this government’s lack of action.

I’m proud to stand with a caucus that has been working to implement greater workplace protections: helping to protect the rights of interns in the workplace and many others; helping to protect child performers at work; helping first responders and front-line health care and corrections workers get recognition and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, because not all workplace injuries are physical, but these psychological injuries, as we know, are no less dangerous and no less impactful to not only the worker but also to their families.

This government has all too often dragged its feet on important health and safety measures and in acknowledging when some workers in this province are ringing the alarm bells about conditions in their workplaces. Every injury and every death in the workplace is one too many, but every year we see these tragic events on construction sites, on the factory floor, in fields, underground, at hospitals, in corrections facilities and in communities from one end of the province to the other as first responders go about their work.

When this happens, families in the north, across the industrial heartland, in rural areas and in our cities are left to pick up the pieces of their lives when their loved ones are suddenly taken from them at work. Every working person in Ontario and their families has the right to peace of mind, Speaker. No Ontarian should ever have to worry if a loved one will go to work and never come home.

New Democrats are committed to strong safety regulations and enforcement. We’re committed to working with employers, unions, safety specialists and the WSIB to make workplaces safer for every Ontarian. We can’t stop until workplace injuries and deaths stop.

Until then, we mourn the dead and fight for the living.