CORNER BROOK, NL - The Corner Brook and District Labour Council was getting set to add hold its annual National Day of Mourning ceremony on April 28, but the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a change in the plans.
Normally the council holds a ceremony at a local church to recognize those who have lost their lives on the job or due to an illness contracted on the job or those who have been injured at work as part of similar events held around the province and accorss the country.
Each year the council adds at least two new names to the list of those recognized and also has them engraved on the monument located on Mill Road across from Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
The ceremony has attracted up to 300 people in the past and large gatherings are no longer allowed.
There had been some thought of doing something smaller but that would leave out a lot of people.
“It’s just no way we could get together any sense,” said council president Danny Quilty.
And so, the planning committee decided the practical decision was to cancel the ceremony. Adding new names to the monument will wait until next year.
Quilty said doing so was hard and the council doesn’t want the day to go by unrecognized.
“Especially now above all times.”
Instead the council is joining an effort by the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour to mark the day through video.
The federation is making a video with a focus on frontline and essential workers and how important workplace safety is at this time and asked the labour councils in Corner Brook, St. John’s and Labrador to participate.
The federation will be posting its video and ones from the area councils on its website and Facebook page.
Quilty hasn’t completed his video but has been giving some thought to what he’ll say.
He said people working during the pandemic are putting their lives at risk to try to save lives and he wants them to stay safe.
“We implore all employers to make sure workers on the frontline have the personal protective equipment during this time and for everybody to stay safe.”
Federation president Mary Shortall said originally the theme the Canadian Labour Congress had planned for the Day of Mourning was centred around workplace cancers.
The change of focus to frontline and essential workers is a fitting one during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortall said there’s so much attention now on protective equipment, on health care and other essential workers, those in long-term care homes and personal-care homes, in grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations.
“They’re the ones who are going to keep us all safe. If their workplaces are not safe and if they’re not given the equipment they need then the rest of are not going to be safe.”
She said there needs to be attention put on drawing the focus back to ensure the importance of health and safety in the workplace.
“It’s also our call to action for employers and government,” she said. “The obligation for employers is to keep workplaces safe and healthy all the time and for governments to make sure that they have the strictest laws and the best prevention strategies, the best enforcement that we can have.”
Shortall said she is also seeing a change happening because of COVID-19 in the discussion around an essential worker.
“The cleaner in the hospital or the garbage person who collects your garbage out in the street will ultimately be the ones who ensure we stay safe and alive as well as the health-care professionals and the people who work in the facilities.”
When the pandemic is over, she expects there to be a lot of discussion on how the work people do is valued.
“I think it will give a brand-new meaning to the discussions we have over living wages and minimum wages.”
Shortall said of the at-risk jobs being done the majority are held by woman, so she also expects to see discussion on how women’s work is valued.
“I think there will be a lot of discussions happening when all this is over.”