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April 28, 2011

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Remembering and recommitting to safer workplaces

VANCOUVER—CUPE locals at UBC organized a well-attended ceremony to mark the National Day of Mourning for workers lost or injured on the job. Piper Jenna Potter, whose father is a CUPE member, led a procession from Flag Pole Plaza to the CUPE 116 memorial site.

Also in the procession were CUPE 116 president Colleen Garbe and CUPE 2950 president Nancy Forhan.

Henry Charles of the Musqueam First Nation, whose territory includes UBC, offered an opening prayer. Barry Jones, CUPE 116 safety officer, then led a moment of silence to remember lost and injured workers.

Jones then gave a brief history of the workers’ memorial day, which was started by CUPE in 1984. The next year the Canadian Labour Congress declared April 28 an annual day of remembrance, to coincide with the anniversary of the Workers’ Compensation Act passed in 1914.

Noting that 144 workers died on the job in the past year in B.C., Jones spoke about two of those workers - CUPE 873 paramedics Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka.

CUPE BC President Barry O’Neill talked about the growing awareness of occupational diseases related to things like asbestos. “Gone are the days when you had to have a broken bone to be injured,” said O’Neill. He urged employers and unions to be vigilant about the regulations that are in place. “No regulation will save anyone’s life unless it’s enforced.”

UBC Vice President Finance, Resources and Operations, Pierre Ouillet, said he appreciated the awareness of safety on the part of workers and discussed safety initiatives at UBC. Ouillet said he looks forward to a time when we see far fewer injuries on the job.

CUPE 116 member Keith Jellis spoke from the heart about the impact of seeing his father die due to work-related cancer. Jellis told of how his grief had moved from remembering his father to fighting for the living – leading him to become a health and safety activist at UBC.

The ceremony ended with the playing of Amazing Grace and a commitment by all to remember and to support safe workplaces. 

Events marking April 28 are happening throughout the province, including a Day of Mourning flag raising by CUPE 1091 and a City Hall ceremony with CUPE 454 in Delta.

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