Canadian Cancer Society
"The Canadian Cancer Society is one of the largest health charities in the country you probably recognize our daffodil emblem. Perhaps you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have participated in the relay for life, contacted one of our local offices or looked up information on our website.
But we are more than research and more than services. We are active advocates for preventing cancer and improving the lives of cancer patients and their families. And this is where we actually have a lot to learn from the labour movement. You are all pioneers in improving the lives of workers and rank and file members like you have fought long and hard for better sick-leave, maternity pay, health benefits and safe work places. And these are the issues that I am going to cover today because your work directly impacts cancer patients, because tackling the issues that you deal with every day prevents cancer and improves the lives of those live with and beyond cancer.
So you know as well as I do that workers have a right to safe work place a work place free from harassment , a work place where you are protected from dangerous chemicals and hazards. We know that there are about sixty substances in our work place that cause cancer and we suspect that there are many many more. Workers are often exposed to these carcinogens multiple times which increases your risk of cancer. So as research helps us understand what substances are and are not a risk for cancer, we need to ensure that employers take action to stop workers being exposed to these chemicals.
For instance the Occupation Cancer Research Centre is in partnership with the society and the United Steelworkers. The OCRC conducts research about cancer and occupational cancer and then uses these findings in the work place to prevent exposure and improve the health of workers. We are funding a new study that for the first time that will look at forty four carcinogens and their links to twenty seven different types of cancer in your work place and assess how serious the problem is.
We'll be able to estimate the number of new cancer cases caused by occupational exposure and the number of cancer deaths caused by exposure in the work place. We can also work out the economic impact. At the political level our teams are fighting for restrictions on asbestos, radon, pesticides and other hazardous materials. We are pushing governments to protect workers and employers to guarantee a safe work place.
In fact just this week was the end of our campaign to support a parliamentary motion to create a registry of all buildings like homes, workplaces and businesses that contain asbestos. Sadly the motion didn't pass because it was opposed by Conservative and Block MPs. But we won't give up.
The first step to protecting yourself is being informed. You have a right to know if there is asbestos in your workplace. As many union locals have discovered when they enter collective bargaining the employer looks to roll back hard won provisions like sick leave, drug benefits and disability pay. I don't know if that sounds familiar to anyone. To be clear we need to extend these right not chip away at them. We need to make sure that every Canadian can access the drugs they need without financial hardship. We need better sick leave and more support for people with chronic health conditions.
Unions fought for these rights and we want to help you extend them. Can you guess the average cost of a course of cancer drugs? Picture a number in your head, like a few thousand maybe even twenty thousand dollars. The average cost of one course of cancer drugs is sixty five thousand dollars. That is more than the average household income. If your employer has cut your benefits program or your insurer refuses to pay out how are you supposed to cover that cost. If you have been laid off or your company has gone bankrupt and you find yourself at the back of the line, how do you afford sixty five thousand dollars.
Last year I spoke to a man from New Brunswick, he emailed because his wife had just been diagnosed with cancer. He was told that to start treatment they would need to pay twelve thousand dollars and they could expect to pay this amount every two months for the duration of her care. He simply didn't have the money. What do you say to somebody in that boat. We shouldn't have to tell people to sell their houses, to move to another province or to choose between food and medication.
A few years ago I worked with a wonderful woman from BC. Natalie was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. But after fifteen weeks of time off work her EI support ran out. But Natalie was still to sick to go back to work, she was still recovering and she could barely lift her head. The money had run out so back to work she went.
How about care givers, We know that the bulk of care givers are women many of whom are supporting an elderly parent as well as their own child not to mention holding down a job. A quarter of Canadians have cared for a sick family member in the last year and nearly half have had to use their personal savings to do that. Like Laurie, who is mom of three from Ontario. When they were about ten months old, one of her twin boys was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout Brock's treatment Laurie was her son's care giver. She attended every appointment and sat by his bedside for months. She was forced by her employer to give up work for her son. The family just couldn't manage without someone there for Brock at all times. She was forced out and the small payments soon added up. The gas for the long drives to hospital, the parking charges and the overnight stays, on only one salary the family was a a breaking point.
So together with other charities we are calling for better financial support for Canadians who are sick. We are urging the federal government to improve job protection and employment insurance for workers and care givers. We need better and more affordable access to medications. Working together these are issues we can tackle. These are issues we can't afford not to tackle.
It is rare that one organization can effect change on its own though and that is particularly true in this environment today. So its by standing side by side and raising our collective voices in solidarity that we make change happen. Change starts with learning. The Canadian Cancer Society wants to learn. We have much to give like world class research and one the ground services but we know that unions have lead the way too. You have broken the ground ahead and made it easier of the rest of us to follow in your path.
Just to finish, I used to work for a wonderful man who sadly passed away from cancer a year or so ago. He used to close his meeting with a quote about improving the lives of Canadians, improving the lives of workers, families and patients and future children. He would quote the late great Tommy Douglas; "Courage my friends it is not to late to make a better world". Thank you. "