May 12, 2022
Response to the BC Premier and Minister of Labour’s statement on lives “needlessly cut short” by “work-related illnesses or injuries”
In many places in BC, on April 28, flags were flown at half-mast in response to the national Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace. Also referred to as the National Day of Mourning, it has been observed in Canada on April 28 since 1991.
On April 28, 2022, BC Premier John Horgan and Harry Bains, Minister of Labour, released a statement that “we remember and honour these workers and all those whose lives have been needlessly cut short over the past years.”
This is a nice thing to say- but how are workers being honoured when the very right to safety in the workplace is being jeopardized because of inaccurate or incomplete information coming from a public health authority?
The provincial government’s statement revealed that in 2021, of the people who passed away due to “work-related illnesses or injuries” in BC, 46 were those “who succumbed to other diseases, including COVID-19”.
We agree with Horgan and Bains that “we must”, as they say, “do better” but, in remembering the “lives lost or forever altered by workplace injury or illness” we ask: May the public see the data on this?
April has come and gone, as have the ceremonies, flags at half-mast, and nice words. April is over. May is here.
May we see the data?
If not, why not?
How can we “remember and honour” workers who died because of COVID in the workplace without knowing who they are, or even how many of them have passed away? How can we make sure their deaths were not in vain and that other workers will not suffer in the same way?
The truth is, we don’t know how many people have died or become disabled due to contracting COVID in their workplaces. Words are nice, but if there is a real commitment to “making B.C.’s workplaces the safest in the country,” then why are workers getting in trouble for raising safety concerns?
We see that there are growing numbers of Long COVID clinics in this province, so there must be growing numbers of cases. But we don’t know how many Long COVID cases there are in this province or how many BC workers have been impacted. Ferry workers, public transit employees, teachers, health care workers, workers in any field; how many workers have Long COVID, and how does the risk to workers compare across industries?
Labour laws require that employers do all they can to protect workers from deadly or debilitating poisons or pathogens in the workplace. But we see very little evidence that this law is still in effect in BC, with all public-facing workers now at substantially increased risk of illness, disability and death due to the ending of mask protections in the public spaces they work in.
Without access to any data to assess our risks in various working environments, it’s impossible for most BC employees to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing, and difficult for COVID-disabled workers to demand from their employers the accommodations they are entitled to under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
So we ask: May we see the data?
And, if not, why not?