April 28 is the National Day of Mourning Saskatchewan Government for workers killed, injured, or made sick on the job. The Saskatchewan Government General Employees Union (SGEU) is using the day as an opportunity to recognize the human costs of COVID-19 and the frontline workers who have gotten sick and died from being exposed at work.
According to the union approximately 1,000 Canadian workers, and more than 2.7 million workers around the world, die because of an injury or an exposure that happens at work.
“This year the Day of Mourning has the added significance of highlighting the human costs of COVID-19,” SGEU Acting President Roseann Strelezki said.
They added in a release that in the province nearly 500 (482 as of April 27) people have died from the COVID-19 virus with many who were exposed at work.
“As of April 26 two thirds of the current COVID-19 outbreaks in the province were classified as workplace outbreaks and most of the remainder are in locations like schools and correctional centres where workers are also at risk,”she explained.
She explained that the pandemic has made plain the fact that workers are unacceptably vulnerable and have few protections, low wages, and no paid sick leave to help them.
“It only makes sense, people who have paid sick days they can stay home when they are sick whereas if they don’t get paid for those days they need the money so they are going to go to work. When they go to work and they are sick they are infecting other employees and the public,” Strelezki said.
According to Strelezki, union members have paid sick days as a right that has been bargained for.
“Other workers in our communities don’t and I just feel for them, if they are living paycheck to paycheck how do they take a sick day? That one day can mean the difference of having a phone bill or power bill or a place to live,” she explained.
“It’s not just like a common cold either, it’s days and days of getting better. If all employees across Canada, all of the workers of Canada had paid sick leave they would be able to stay home and not infect the community. And let’s face it when they are out there in public during a pandemic they also carry it home to their families and make them sick as well.”
In a release the union noted that the day is a time to mourn and a time to renew the fight to make sure that working people are safe on the job every single day.
The SGEU is joining other Canadian unions in calling on all governments to immediately introduce or expand paid sick leave and ensure workers aren’t required to put themselves and others at risk by going to work sick.
“It is also why SGEU is working hard to keep all of our members safe. We are lobbying for priority vaccine access for essential frontline workers, fighting for better PPE and we are advocating for our members to work from home. At the same time we are calling on the government to improve labour legislation and working conditions across our province,” she said.
The Day of Mourning itself is important to Strelezki.
“The Day of Mourning what it means to me is a reminder to us to renew our commitment to occupational health and safety in all workplaces not just unionized workplaces, all workplaces. And like from the bottom of my heart I feel that one,” she said.