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In BC, 160 workers died on the job last year

Three workers die every week at work in British Columbia and every workday 19 people suffer serious injuries, New Democratic Party Leader Carole James said Tuesday to mark the International Day of Mourning in memory of workers killed on the job.

Recent statistics indicate that 160 people died on the job in British Columbia last year, and James said government must improve safety inspections and regulations.

She made the statements during a provincial election campaign where job losses and the struggling economy have largely trumped labour issues.

Premier Gordon Campbell paid tribute to fallen workers during campaigning on Tuesday, as well, and agreed that governments, employers and employees must do everything they can do ensure people arrive home safely from work.

"Throughout the history of our province, we've relied on the hard work of countless thousands of workers to build British Columbia into the province we live in today," Campbell said in a statement. "We owe a tremendous debt to those men and women, and to all the people at work today in every corner of B.C."

He said the government will place permanent markers on all new public buildings naming the workers involved in their construction.

A decade-old workplace safety study by the Workers' Compensation Board, now WorkSafe BC, found the average number of deaths due to on-the-job incidents and occupational disease was 148 people a year.

The study was conducted from 1989 to 1999, and it found the highest numbers of deaths were in the charter air industry with an average of 21.5 deaths annually, and logging was second, losing 9.3 workers a year.

But the Liberal election platform deals more with the lack of work, than worker safety. With a worldwide recession going on, the main labour plank in the Liberal platform is a plant to work with Ottawa to extend Employment Insurance benefits for unemployed workers.

The government said it has already reformed WorkSafe BC to improve the appeals process and ensure the long-term sustainability of workers' benefits.

The government said it enacted legislation known as Grant's Law to protect people working alone in response to the tragic death of Grant De Patie who died on the job at a service station during a gas-and-dash in the Lower Mainland.

British Columbians now must pay before filling their tanks.

Still, Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said 160 worker deaths are too many.

"In the last eight years (under the B.C. Liberals) how's it been going?" he said. "The answer is on average our death rates are going up, not down, and the people with permanent disability rate continues to go up, too."

Sinclair said the Liberal government's focus on labour issues have been minimal when it comes to protecting worker safety and improving their standard of living.

"The symbolic issue, of course, is the minimum wage," he said. "Every province in the country has raised the minimum wage, and we've gone from the highest minimum wage and the highest cost of living in 2001 to the lowest minimum wage in the country, still having one of the highest costs of living."

The B.C. minimum wage is $8 an hour. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island also have $8 minimum wages, but they are scheduled to increase this year, Sinclair said.

"They have absolutely no commitment to make sure ordinary people get fair wages or fair conditions," he said.

The New Democrats promise to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

They also promise improvements to recognizing foreign credentials to allow immigrant to work in their chosen fields, changes to the Employment Standards Act, restoration of lifetime pensions and increases to compensation benefits.

Dirk Meissner reports for The Canadian Press.

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