November 29th, 2021

Local workers branch off to create own ceremony for Day of Mourning, look to honour fallen farm workers

By Collin Gallant on April 27, 2017.

Local labour representatives are moving to make workers and farm workers more prominent in local ceremonies this Friday to mark the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.

Organizers of another however, say the day should be about awareness, not politics.

For several years, prominent members of the Medicine Hat and District Labour Council have taken part in a ceremony arranged by the Alberta Construction Safety Association at the city’s arboretum, near Scholten Hill.

This year though, a separate ceremony will take place at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital involving unions contracted by Alberta Health Services as well as management officials with the provincial agency.

“We’ve attended in the past, and because it’s not really a labour-driven event, a group thought that we should be holding our own event,” Kelly Garland of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents paramedics and lab workers at the hospital.

At 10 a.m. on Friday, dignitaries from the HSAA, the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, will read out a list of the 144 workers killed in Alberta over the past year, including, for the first time, farm worker statistics captured under new occupational safety reporting.

That takes place at the new second-floor atrium in the ambulatory care wing at the hospital.

Across town, an annual ceremony hosted by the Medicine Hat Regional Safety Committee, will take place at 11 a.m. at the monument to fallen workers near Factory and South Railway streets.

Its organizer, Steve Brosnikoff, said he was unaware of the second ceremony but stressed his group’s aim is to inform and remember workers, “not bash employers or governments.”

“We don’t want people getting on a soapbox,” said Brosnikoff.

“We want people to know that there are people who are hurt and killed in workplace. We want to honour them in a quiet, dignified way.

“It’s about informing people.”

He said no one has ever been asked not to take part, and it is well attended.

The Medicine Hat Police Association, as well as the city’s unionized firefighters, have played a prominent roll, as have elected officials.

The Day of Mourning was recognized by parliament in 1991 after a push by the Canadian Labour Congress, a national labour umbrella organization, of which the labour council is the local wing.

Garland, the HSAA rep to the labour council, says the group should be holding its own events to honour workers.

Also, he said, workers and their unions need to voice on safety issues.

Eric Musekamp, head of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, said workers deserve recognition for pushing for better standards. The province revoked an exemption in 2016 for farms and ranches, leading to Workers Compensation coverage for workers and better reporting of workplace accidents.

“Throughout history, farmworkers have not counted in statistics,” said Musekamp, who will attend ceremonies in Lethbridge. “It’s a significant step forward.”

The past two years have seen skirmishes between worker and employer groups, specifically over farm safety legislation, and its inclusion has been hotly debated by the government, workers advocates and producer groups.

An overall review of Workers Compensation Board regulations is underway, as well as a general review of the Labour Code. Both have been topics in the legislature, and business groups have launched campaigns warning of economic consequences of imposing changes. Major labour groups have said new legislation in required.

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