SUDBURY -- The messages at all of the northern Day of Mourning events on Wednesday were of paid sick days, increasing access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and the language surrounding COVID-19 through the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB).

Unions, labour councils, workers and the opposition are calling on the Ontario government to listen to the repeated calls for improvements to these areas.

"Workers have had to fight for access to effective protective equipment, COVID-safe practices at work, paid sick leave and respect for their basic health and safety rights," said Henri Giroux of the North Bay Labour Council.

"The Ontario WSIB has recognized 46 deaths that can be linked directly to workplace exposure (to) the virus since the pandemic began. Workers have faced impossible choices in this pandemic. No one should have died to make a living."

According to numbers from the WSIB, 245 deaths occurred in the province in 2020. That is the highest number of fatalities that have occurred since 2011 when the total reached 258.

Of those deaths, 28 were COVID-19 related.

"I don’t know if there was anybody who necessarily has passed away, but I have had members, my own members, that were in critical condition in the hospital because of COVID-19 and it’s a reality that we’re all living,” said Mike Bellerose, President of Sudbury and District Labour Council.

Bellerose said he and many others across the north are calling on the province to provide adequate PPE, paid sick days for all workers and recognize COVID-19 in presumptive WSIB language.

"With WSIB right now you, have to prove that you got COVID in the workplace. And because you can get COVID anywhere, you could literally work in intensive care, get COVID, and then go to WSIB and they can say 'maybe you got it while grocery shopping,'" said Sudbury MPP Jamie West.

He said that Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised the best paid sick day’s program that the world has ever seen, but has since backtracked in recent days.

Instead, it’s being proposed that the province attaches to the federal policy.

"The federal policy isn’t as good as a paid sick day because you actually have to have COVID to take advantage of the federal paid sick leave. And so if you’re a low wage earner and you think you have symptoms, you have to wait till after you get your test results to come in in order to take advantage of them," West said. "As well, just to finalize on it, you have to be in a position where you can go without wages while you wait for the money to come in. And so the reality really is the reason that that is underserviced, less than half a per cent has been accessed, is because there (are) not enough workers in the position to actually use them to fit in that specific circumstance."

Watch the 2021 Day of Mourning ceremony in Sudbury:

and North Bay's here