Speakers push for mining inquiry at Day of Mourning
Traditionally, Steelworkers Local 6500 presents white roses to the families of those who have been killed on Vale property every April 28, on the Day of Mourning.
Three more families received roses at this year's ceremony. On June 8, 2011, Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were killed at Stobie Mine. Then, on Jan. 29, 2012, Stephen Perry, 47, was killed at Coleman Mine.
There are now 43 names on the list of those killed on company property since the Day of Mourning, which is now marked internationally, was started by Local 6500 28 years ago.
The union has also compiled a list of nearly 700 names of those killed on company property since the late 1800s.
“Since last day of mourning last year, we're adding three names to our list,” Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand said, during the union's Day of Mourning luncheon event at the Steelworkers Hall.
“I cannot imagine the pain, the suffering and the emotions that the Fram family, the Chenier family and the Perry family have went through in the last year.”
Gerry Lougheed Jr., one of the speakers at the event, said there needs to be an inquest into the state of mining in Ontario, as requested by Local 6500 earlier this year upon their release of a report on the events leading to Chenier and Fram's deaths.
He's even gone so far to print 1,000 addressed, stamped postcards addressed to Minister of Labour Linda Jeffrey, requesting the inquest. Some of the postcards were handed out at the event.
“So my thinking is, regardless of one's political leanings, whether they're left, right or upside down ... as a community we need to get together and say that an inquiry makes sense,” Lougheed said, speaking to Northern Life after the event.
“Hopefully we'll make sure we don't have three fatalities in a three-month period within our own community again.”
Lougheed Jr., who has been speaking at the Steelworkers' Day of Mourning luncheon for more than 20 years, said he feels very strongly about workplace safety.
“Nobody should come into work with a lunch bag, and come out with a body bag,” he said.
“That's just wrong. I think it affects me in a very personal way, because being a funeral director, I actually sit in my office with people. I know it's the right thing to ask for an inquiry, because the wrong thing is a 30-year-old widow with two children, making funeral arrangements with me.”
Steelworkers International president Leo Gerard said too many employers in the province use what he calls “lazy health and safety.”
“These are blame the worker programs,” he said.
“If you get hit by a chunk of loose in the mines, it's your fault. If you trip on a broken stair, you should have known that stair was broken. If you twisted your ankle, you're going to be discplined. That happens in too many workplaces. Blame the worker lazy safety programs do not fix the problems.”
Eight people have been killed in the province's mining industry over the past year, he said. Three hundred thirty eight have been killed on the job in Ontario over the past year, 6,000 have died of industrial disease, and 240,000 have made workplace injury claims.
Gerard echoed Lougheed Jr.'s comments about the need for an inquiry into mining practices in the province.
The last inquiry into the province's mining industry ended up becoming the basis of the current occupational health and safety legislation.
This legislation hasn't been changed in 30 years, “although our workplaces have changed, everything we do has changed, although our workplaces have become more internationally owned,” Gerard said.
It's not enough to just remember those who have been killed on company property over the years, he said.
“What we need to do is honour them by using all the energy, creativity and commitment we have to make sure lives will not be lost,” Gerard said. “On behalf of the people who have died, we're going to make sure nobody else's family ever has to go through this.”
Posted by Heidi Ulrichsen