CUPE 5430 is deeply troubled by misleading claims made by Deputy Labour Minister Donna Johnson regarding workers’ rights and workplace safety.

Minister Johnson claimed that COVID-19 doesn’t pose an unusual danger and that, “If there’s no reason to say that the workplace is unsafe, then the employee essentially does not have any ability to refuse work…”  These claims were made in an article which appeared on the 650 CKOM website on May 15.

Troy Winters, CUPE’s Health and Safety Senior Officer, says that by making these claims Ms. Johnson demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of how the law works.  In fact, when an employee believes their workplace or the job they’ve been asked to perform is unusually dangerous they then have the right to refuse.  “Every situation is unique, and a blanket statement about what is dangerous, is in itself very dangerous,”

“When our members hear these statements made by someone in a position as the Deputy Minister of Labour, they believe them.  When they believe them, they become more likely to walk into dangerous situations.  By making these claims Ms. Johnson is endangering the safety and possibly the lives of all workers in this province,” said Sandra Seitz, president of CUPE 5430.

The Saskatchewan Employment Act is clear.  It says that a worker has the right to refuse work “…if the worker has reasonable grounds to believe that the act or series of acts is unusually dangerous to the worker’s health or safety…”

“The Deputy Minister does not have the right to pre-declare that a workplace is safe,” added Winters.  The right to refuse is just the start of a process that allows workers to step back from a situation that could lead them to injury or illness if their health and safety complaints have not been addressed before they are required to do a job.”

Seitz says that while the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority have repeatedly told the unions there is no shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the stories the local is hearing from its members is quite different.

Seitz says that members have told the local they get four surgical masks per day and they have to make them last which does not always allow for safe practices and may lead to dangerous situations.  Whether it’s because of a misunderstanding on the part of the managers or because of PPE conservation practices doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is that it poses dangers which the worker must have some control over.

COVID-19 is deadly.  To make a blanket statement saying it doesn’t present an unusual danger is irresponsible.  The Deputy Minister should be more concerned about making sure all the workers in the province have proper PPE and that all employers are properly training their employees how to use them.  This is not the time to deny rights to the workers of this province,” added Seitz.