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The Canada Labour Code has been amended and thats good news for CUPE members under federal jurisdiction. Flight attendants and workers in power generation, telecommunications and ports will benefit from expanded rights to refuse unsafe work, improved protection against violence and strengthened health and safety committees.

The amendments are the first in fifteen years and the result of seven years of consultations in which staff from CUPEs Health and Safety Branch played an active role.

CUPE members working under federal jurisdiction will have vastly improved health and safety protection, said National President Judy Darcy. Although the Code covers only certain CUPE members, the amended legislation provides a model for provincial jurisdictions in its approach to regulating occupational health and safety.

The new legislation is the result of countless hours of discussion and negotiations among organized labour, employers and the federal government. Hundreds of proposals were considered and in the end labour and employers were able to reach consensus on the majority of the most important initiatives. In the few areas where no consensus was reached, the federal government made decisions unilaterally. Most, but not all, of these decisions were acceptable to labour.

The amendments reflect labours belief that increased worker participation in decisions that effect their health and safety will lead to improved working conditions.

The Labour Codes major improvements include:

Right to Refuse Workers who exercise their right to refuse dangerous work will have the right to select a person from the workplace to participate in the investigation when a member of the workplace health and safety committee is not available. Workers who refuse work will continue to receive their pay until the end of their shift or normal work period. Discipline cases arising from right to refuse cases can be appealed to the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

Protection for Pregnant and Nursing Workers Women who believe the workplace presents a danger to themselves, their foetus, or, in the case of nursing mothers, their baby, will have the right to withdraw from work that is harmful. They will not lose pay or benefits but a physicians certificate must be obtained. The employer can reassign the worker to another safe job. Until now, Quebec was the only North American jurisdiction with legislated health and safety protection for pregnant and nursing workers.

Violence in the Workplace The legislation requires employers to take specific steps to prevent and protect against violence in the workplace. CUPE is participating on two working groups that have nearly completed the drafting of separate regulations on prevention programs and workplace violence under the new Code.

Workplace Health and Safety Committees These committees will now have expanded roles and responsibilities. In addition to their duty to regularly inspect their workplaces, they will have responsibility for the investigation and resolution of health and safety complaints. If the committee cannot come to an agreement, a government safety officer intervenes.

Policy Health and Safety Committees In addition to joint Workplace Health and Safety Committees, industries with 300 or more employees will be required to set up policy committees to ensure that workers at different job sites enjoy the same protection. The committees will play a role in developing occupational health and safety related prevention programs; investigations, studies and inspections; and assessment of personal protective equipment. With a mandate to emphasize prevention, the policy committees will help ensure that health and safety concerns are addressed at the highest management levels.

The new Code provides workers with the most up-to-date legislative tools for injury and illness prevention. But its benefits will be felt only if it is rigorously enforced.

In the coming months and years, CUPE will be promoting awareness of the amendments and assisting members to exercise their rights to a safe and healthy workplace.

by Anthony Pizzino

Copies of the Amendments to the Canada Labour Code Part II, which are contained in Bill C-12, can be found at the Human Resources Development Canada web site: www.parl.gc.ca/cgi-bin/36/pb_gob.pl?e

Copies of the Bill as well as CUPEs submission to Parliament can also be obtained by contacting the Health and Safety Branch at cupehs@cupe.ca or by calling (613) 237-1590.