April 28: We mourn for the dead and fight for the living as Alberta chips away at worker safety

On April 28, the International Day of Mourning for Workers killed, injured or sickened on the job, we mourn for the dead and fight for the living.

Members of United Nurses of Alberta serve on the front lines of a battered health care system and we recommit ourselves each year to ensuring workers are protected from the workplace hazards that lead to preventable, needless death, serious injury or illness.

But we must recognize that the struggle is not moving in the right direction in Alberta.

Alberta’s government continues to talk the talk about worker safety, but the actual policies enacted by the current government shows no such commitment to walk the walk.

On the contrary, using slogans about reducing red tape, our provincial government has been chipping away at regulations that keep Alberta workers safe.

As a result of the “Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act,” passed by the provincial Legislature in 2020, Alberta workers saw rights they needed to ensure their safety at work significantly rolled back.

The bill, which introduced changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, weakened the Joint Health and Safety Committee system and eliminated requirements for workers to participate in worksite safety inspections.

The act also eroded the right of workers to refuse unsafe work and made it easier for employers to punish workers who refused dangerous work.

This happened despite the Occupational Health and Safety Act stating that among the purposes of that legislation is “the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, psychological and social well-being of workers.”

This is particularly troubling in light of the experience of nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought unexpected dangers to our workplaces when it came to protecting health care workers in the midst of a deadly global pandemic.

“Nurses will never let their patients down,” UNA President Heather Smith said during the pandemic. “But the work of nursing, now more than ever, must be done with special alertness to the safety of health care workers and the people in their care alike.”

As the pandemic lingers and new variants of the virus continue to appear, violence against health care workers that increased during the pandemic remains a very serious concern. Violence in the workplace is never acceptable.

That requirement for additional attention will continue, despite the efforts of many governments to pretend the pandemic has receded into history.

Traditional April 28 gatherings to honour the dead and advocate for the living are returning.

The Edmonton and District Labour Council has scheduled one such event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Grant Notley Park, 116 Street & 100 Avenue, Edmonton.

The Calgary and District Labour Council will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at noon Friday at the City of Calgary Workers Memorial, Edward Place Park, at the southeast corner of City Hall, 9th Avenue and Macleod Trail S.E.

April 28 officially became the National Day of Mourning in Canada in 1991 after the passage by Parliament of the Workers Mourning Day Act in December 1990. Since then, the occasion has come to be widely marked throughout the world.