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Troy Winters | CUPE Health & Safety

With the introduction of a new omnibus budget bill C-4 on October 22, 2014, the Harper government has again signaled their total disregard for the interests of Canadian workers. Included in the 300-page bill are changes that would weaken health and safety protections under Part II of the Canada Labour Code.

New definition of danger

Bill C-4 proposes to dramatically change the definition of what constitutes a danger to a worker.

The definition change puts workers at risk for several reasons, the most critical being the direct consequence to the right to refuse. As their last line of personal protection, workers in Canada have a right to refuse dangerous work. By altering the definition of danger, workers will need to argue that they faced an “imminent or serious” health effect by performing a task. Current usage of the right to refuse does not require such evidence.

The government maintains that this new definition does not reduce worker’s rights. However, including “imminent” both confuses the issue and introduces the idea that workers are not entitled to protection from conditions that could cause them illness in the future.

The definition change also removes the explicit prevention of exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to result in a chronic illness, disease or damage to the reproductive system.

Reducing health and safety committee power

One of the concepts underlying health and safety law in Canada is that employers and workers should work together to solve health and safety issues. However, C-4 proposes to repeal section 127.1(7), which empowers the workplace committee to prevent a worker from performing work when the committee has jointly decided there is danger.

Proposed for repeal:

Section 127.1 (7) If the persons who investigate the complaint conclude that a danger exists as described in subsection 128(1), the employer shall, on receipt of a written notice, ensure that no employee use or operate the machine or thing, work in the place or perform the activity that constituted the danger until the situation is rectified.

Elimination of federal inspectors

Bill C-4 proposes to repeal the definitions of “health and safety officer” and “regional health and safety officer” and replace all references with “the Minister” throughout the legislation. So how would you feel about a political appointee investigating your health and safety concern instead of a professional inspector?

The Harper government’s claims that they are merely clarifying or strengthening the existing laws are deception tactics to deflect attention from their real goal of putting more power over workers into employers’ hands. To them, risking workers’ safety and health is a negligible by-product of keeping costs low and profits high.

The CLC has produced a video explaining the changes. They are also calling workers to contact their MPs, and to tweet directly to Minister of Labour Kellie Leitch (@kellieleitch) and Minister of Employment Jason Kenney (@kenneyjason).

Check out the CLC’s video at clc-ctc.ca

The proposal to change the definition of the word danger in the Canada Labour Code could dramatically change the right to refuse. How exactly would it be changed? See what the government plans to strike out:

Danger means any existing or potentialhazard, orcondition orany current or futureactivity that could reasonably be expected tocause injury or illness tobe an imminent or serious threat to the life or health ofa person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be corrected, or the activity altered.whether or not the injury or illness occurs immediately after the expo­sure to the hazard, condition or activity, and includes any exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to result in a chronic illness, in disease or in damage to the reproductive system.

Asbestos by Joey Gannon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.