Labour Day had more of a sombre tone in Prince George this year as workers reflected on a series of industrial accidents which left six mill workers dead and many others injured.
Carl Charlie and Robert Luggi Jr., were both killed in January in an explosion at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake. An explosion at Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George took the lives of Glenn Roche and Alan Little.
Two other accidents in Vanderhoof and Fort St. James took the lives of George Park Jr., and Mika Saario.
"Every year we lose a lot of workers; unfortunately in and around Prince George this year we had some very high profile deaths and some very, very serious injuries and some injuries to the community," United Steelworkers western director Stephen Hunt said in a phone interview after attending a Labour Day picnic in Vancouver.
Hunt said about 1,000 workers die every year in Canada and more work needs to be done to make workplaces safer.
Provincial Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid also acknowledged the worker deaths in her Labour Day message.
"It is with great sadness that I reflect upon the last year and note that not every worker went home safely at the end of their working day," she said in a news release. "The deaths and injuries experienced, including those in the mill explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George, were terrible tragedies and the impact on the families, friends and communities of the victims and the injured continues."
MacDiarmid said it is the government's role to learn from each fatal incident and make sure rules are in place to prevent them from happening again. Investigations into the two explosions are ongoing.
With union membership declining, particularly in the private sector, Hunt said Labour Day is a good reminder about the importance of unions.
In addition to improved safety, he said everything from the concept of weekends and 40-hour weeks owe their history to the labour movement.
"It's harder and harder to organize, and the laws that governments pass make it really difficult," he said. "I've always maintained to non-union employees, if your employer treats you with dignity and respect and they compensate you fairly, there's probably no place for a union -- but where the employer is not fair, where there is an imbalance, the importance of unions really comes to the forefront."