Troy Winters and Julie Jobin | CUPE Health & Safety

Health and safety-related changes to the Canada Labour Code came into effect on October 31, 2014. These changes only apply to workers that are regulated by the Canada Labour Code (rather than provincial health and safety legislation) which includes CUPE members who work in communications, ports, airlines, rail and other cross-provincial border transportation.

There are three significant changes that affect CUPE members:

1) THE DEFINITION OF DANGER

As we previously reported, the Code now requires that a hazard be “an imminent or serious threat” to be considered dangerous. CUPE adamantly disagrees with the new definition, as it implies that long-term exposures to hazardous substances, like asbestos for instance, may not be considered dan-gerous (See Canary Winter 2014 for a more in-depth explanation). Regardless of the definition, if you are asked to do work you legitimately believe will pose a significant risk to your health and safety now, or your health in the future, you still have the right to refuse dangerous work, and should do so.

2) THE INVESTIGATION PROCESS FOR WORK REFUSAL

The process for investigating a work refusal has also changed, with new mandatory requirements for committee involvement in the investigation and written reporting requirements that previously did not exist. A summary of the new procedure, with a complete expla­nation from the federal government can be found at cupe.ca (search “right to refuse”).

3) WORK REFUSALS BEING RULED AS TRIVIAL, FRIVOLOUS OR VEXATIOUS, OR MADE IN BAD FAITH

The Code now provides both the employer and the Minister of Labour or the minister’s delegate an option to rule an investigation of a work refusal trivial, frivolous or vexatious, or made in bad faith. CUPE strongly opposes the new language. We believe it is designed to make workers fearful of refusing work.

The federal labour program has also released new documents clarifying the committee’s right to participate in a refusal investigation. The new Interpretations, Policies and Guidelines (IPGs) reiterates that the term “shall participate” requires the Health and Safety Committee to be actively involved from the beginning to the completion of each of the activities identified in the Code. This language should be interpreted to mean that participation by committee members is (and has always been) a mandatory requirement.

CUPE continues to oppose any legislation that reduces the basic health and safety of our members at work. The Conservative government has a legacy of policies that hurt Canadian families. But the good news is we’re just one election away from seeing the change we want. The NDP has been built in partnership with the Canadian labour movement and CUPE to be a voice for workers. Together, we are committed to building a better Canada, with stronger laws to make sure all workers are healthy and safe on the job. If you believe it’s time to stand up for Canadian workers, vote for the change you want. Support the NDP.