Workers and employers across Canada observe Day of Mourning to remember victims of workplace injuries. In the Prairies, labour groups used the occassion to criticize provincial efforts on workplace safety.
Labour groups across the Prairies gathered in marches or at ceremonies Thursday as part of a National Day of Mourning to remember workers killed or injured on the job.
Some also took the opportunity to criticize provincial efforts on workplace safety and to press for more action to protect employees.
The Alberta Federation of Labour said the provincial government has ignored warnings to improve worksites. President Gil McGowan said government figures show the number of Alberta workers killed on the job jumped by almost 25 per cent last year — to 136 deaths from 110 the previous year.
In Saskatchewan, 45 workers were killed and almost 39,000 reported workplace injuries, while in Manitoba 15 people died and another 14 succumbed to occupational diseases.
"We warned the government time after time that more were needed to be done to save lives and prevent injuries as our economy recovered," McGowan, whose organization represents 140,000 workers, said Thursday.
"Sadly, our warnings were largely ignored and the result has been more preventable deaths — more families missing loved ones."
McGowan said the new fatality figures in Alberta make a mockery of Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk's assertion that the province has been making progress in reducing workplace injuries and accidents.
The government has increased the number of safety inspectors, McGowan acknowledged, but he added much more needs to be done.
He said the province has failed to respond to a judge's two-year-old recommendation to include agricultural workers in safety legislation. He also said there's been no full response to "shocking" gaps in health and safety enforcement revealed by the auditor general last year.
The labour federation has repeatedly called for improvements to workplace safety that include posting full safety records of employers online, increasing prosecutions against employers whose unsafe worksites cause injury or death and giving inspectors the power to issue tickets for violations during inspections.
It also wants mandatory worksite health and safety committees that include workers.
In Manitoba, Labour Minister Jennifer Howard announced a plan to educate young workers and families on how to protect themselves. The plan includes appointing a victims services co-ordinator to help workers link up with support services after an accident.
Howard said the government has hired 20 new safety and health officers and pointed out time lost due to injuries has decreased more than 40 per cent since 2000.
Saskatchewan Labour Minister Don Morgan said everyone needs to "evaluate and renew their personal commitments to safety at work, at home and in their communities."