Workers Centre campaign celebrates volunteer ACTivism
History often repeats itself, or so the saying goes. Health and safety activists have long known the pain and suffering wrought by hazardous work-ing conditions; it continues today.
But like any good teacher history doles out important lessons along the way, gleaned from our losses as much as from our victories. Trusting their own experiences, workers learned early on gains can be made when they stand together and demand better.
Thirty years ago members of United Steelworkers of America Local 5762 did exactly that. Their wildcat strike for better working conditions would eventually benefit workers across the province. They not only made history but initiated a chain of events that would help bring about Ontario’s first Occupational Health and Safety Act
proclaimed on October 1, 1979. Twenty-five years later, the Act
provides most workers three fundamental rights: the right to know about hazards in the workplace; the right to participate in hazard resolution; and the right to refuse unsafe work.
Today, we celebrate all health and safety gains from the passage of the Act
to laws like Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System which provide critical information on workplace toxins, to more recently minted legislation establishing criminal liability for workplace health and safety. Fortunately, we also make history everyday through immediate and tangible workplace improvements when we negotiate additional training for our joint health and safety committees, obtain ergonomically designed equipment or develop and implement stress and workplace violence prevention programs.
For two decades, the Workers Health and Safety Centre has worked alongside workers and their representatives learning and leading the way toward hazard-free workplaces. This fall, for a ninth year, we acknowledge these achievements through a volunteer recognition campaign. We begin with this special insert profiling individuals who’ve already made significant contributions to their workplaces and communities. Others will be formally recognized at some 40 appreciation events across the province hosted by regional labour councils in conjunction with the Workers Centre.
Activists are encouraged to bring family and friends as they renew their commitment to worker well-being. Activists will receive lapel pins bearing this year’s theme and something to record their own history — a Workers Centre journal to document daily observations, potential hazardous exposures and employer responses.
The journal and pin feature newly commissioned artwork by Canadian illustrator, Tracy Walker. Many will know her 1999 piece entitled, One World, One Voice
, which gave visual expression to the Centre’s purpose statement. The canary, a symbol of hazardous workplace exposures, again figures prominently, but today more as leader than victim, proclaiming workers’ hard won health and safety gains.
Says Dave Killham, WHSC executive director, “Paper rights will never replace the power of activism; the ability of workers to use their rights day in and day out to improve their working conditions. We at the Workers Centre also draw power from our common past, but each of us can build upon our health and safety legacy. History is ours for the making.”
For more information about events in your area contact a training service representative at the nearest Workers Centre regional office, or call 1-888-869-7950.