BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
Knowledge is power. This is a message the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) are trying to deliver to millions of Canada?s young workers.
Monday was the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job.
The Steelworkers have been pressing the Young Workers Health and Safety Awareness Campaign in local high schools to help prevent young workers from becoming part of the statistics of those killed and injured on the job.
?The bottom line of our campaign is giving young workers the knowledge of their rights,? said Anne Rinneard, Co-ordinator of the USWA Young Worker?s Awareness Campaign. ?This gives them the confidence to ask questions and stand up for themselves.?
There are two main things young workers can do to help themselves in the workplace.
?First, they should look for the green Occupational Health and Safety hazard book in the workplace and become familiar with it,? said Rinneard ?Second, ask their employer who the health and safety representative is and become familiar with that person.?
In 2001, more than 62,854 young workers were injured on the job in Canada. A total of 60 were killed at work.
?We need to stand up for our young workers who are exposed to hazardous workplace conditions everyday and are too afraid to say anything out of fear of reprisal,? said Barb Noel, field representative with the Worker?s Health and Safety Centre.
The fight also extends to workers who aren?t in a union.
?Most workers who don?t have a union, don?t know their rights,? said Sudbury?s own Leo Gerard, USWA International President. ?Even if they do know their rights they don?t know how to enforce them-this has to stop.?
Gerard was adamant about talking to young workers and letting them know about their rights.
?We as activists have to fight the fight on different levels,? said Gerard. ?If we can save one leg or one life than it will all be worthwhile.?
Health and safety is all about power, said Gerard.
?It?s about power for the right to know your rights whether you?re in a union or not and it?s about the power to know what hazards you will be exposed to in a work environment,? said Gerard. ?Young workers have the right to know and the right to act.?
April 28th was a day to mourn the dead and fight for the living. This is the seventh year the USWA has sponsored this campaign and judging from their sincere and motivational words it looks like they will be fighting the good fight for some time to come.
Gerard went from a presentation to young workers to the Steelworkers Hall for official Day of Mourning ceremonies. A total of 34 white, long-stemmed roses were displayed as a painful reminder of the 34 men who have lost their lives in the mining industry over the past 16 years in this community.
?Today we are here to honour and remember those who paid for working in the industry,? said Jim Gosselin, outgoing president of Local 6500 of the USWA.
Guest speaker Gerry Lougheed Jr. told the large gathering of labour leaders and family and friends of those who have died or been injured on the job ?a worker should not be leaving for work with a lunch bag and leave work in a body bag.?
Lougheed urged those in attendance to talk about those who have lost their lives in the line of duty to let everyone know their memories will never go away.
Gerard said Sudbury was the first community to hold a Day of Mourning 16 years ago and over 400 communities across North America now hold events and this community should be very proud of this.