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April 28th National Day of Mourning

On April 28th workers in over 80 nations will pause for a Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured on the job. The history of how this date was picked is rooted in Canadian history and in CUPE.

In 1983, CUPE National’s Health and Safety Director, Colin Lambert, proposed to the National Health and Safety committee that workers should have a day to recognize those killed and injured on the job. The idea was quickly endorsed by the committee. But what date should it be? Lambert pointed to April 28th, 1915; the day Canada got it’s first workers compensation legislation in Ontario.

Without a system of compensation for workplace injuries a worker killed or hurt on the job had to sue their employer. This required hiring a lawyer at a time when they had no income. It was far more likely their fellow workers would take up a collection to help support them and their family.  The earliest unions would pay for funeral costs but a family without an income was left destitute.

Unions had long been calling for a system that would save workers from the loss of income because they suffered a workplace injury. In 1910 an Ontario Royal Commission recommended a no-fault compensation system in which workers gave up the right to sue for a guaranteed protection from loss of income regardless of fault. And that the system be paid for by all employers. April 28th 1915 the law came into force. Once adopted the idea quickly spread to other provinces.

As more unions supported the idea of a day of mourning workers began to lobby governments to recognize April 28th. In 1991, the House of Commons passed a private member’s bill naming the date as the “Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace.” The CLC took the idea to international labour bodies and so the idea that began in a CUPE committee has now become an International Day of Mourning and Remembrance.


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Notes for OCHU on sources:

The Leader, CUPE, April 1987, p.8.