Workers and workers’ rights still under attack in Alberta
By Derek Ferguson, GLR Political Action
Bill 47 – The most recent attack on worker’s rights by the Jason Kenney Alberta UCP government misleadingly is named the “Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act”.
The so-called “Red Tape” contained in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) and the Workers’ Compensation Act. This will harm Alberta’s workers rather than ensure their safety.
Kenny’s Bill 47 guts the OHS legislation: undermines Joint Health and Safety Committees and is an overall weakening of workers’ rights.
“It’s sad to see that even during this COVID-19 pandemic, the Kenney Conservative Government is introducing legislation that moves the province backward rather than moving forward,” said District 140 General Chairperson Kevin Timms. “Employers always claim safety is their first priority. This UCP government is making it easier for employers to sweep safety under the rug. This further proves the Kenney Government doesn’t care about the safety of working people in the province of Alberta”.
In 2018, the Rachel Notley NDP government introduced legislation to make it mandatory for employers with more than 20 workers to establish Health and Safety committees (JHSC) – the last province in Canada to do so.
In addition to mandating JHSCs, the NDP government established a series of requirements to ensure Joint Health and Safety committees operated effectively – including:
Member training, worker and employer co-chairs, worker selection of worker representatives, and the right to participate in inspections and incident investigations. Bill 47 maintains mandatory committees but eliminates most of the rules governing them. The new Act eliminates co-chairs and permits the employer to appoint worker representatives (after “consultation” with any certified union).
ROLLING BACK – THE THREE WORKER RIGHTS
- The Right to Know
An effective Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC) is one of the few mechanisms workers have to exercise their rights and make sure their workplaces are safe. By permitting employers to appoint a person of their choosing on to a JHSC, the UCP government are effectively stripping away the rights of workers to have any meaningful participation in their workplace safety.
- The Right to Participate
The bill strips committees of their right to participate in inspections and investigations; it eliminates the requirement that the JHSC inspect the worksite quarterly.
- The Right to Refuse
The bill also weakens the right to refuse, by restricting its definition and weakening protection against reprisal. The current OHS Act states workers have a right to refuse work “if the worker believes on reasonable grounds that there is a dangerous condition at the worksite or that the work constitutes a danger to the worker’s health or safety or to the health or safety of another worker or another person”
Bill 47 replaces “dangerous condition” and “danger” with “undue hazard”, “which is defined as a hazard that poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person”. “This legislation proves the Kenney government has little or no regard for the health and safety of Alberta’s workers,” says District 14 Directing Business Representative Kevin Clark, “with the introduction of this bill it will be illegal for a worker to exercise their right to refuse even during a COVID -19 outbreak”.
The bill also denies a worker to have representation at any refusal investigation and removes the obligation to inform other workers of the refusal. The bill makes the right to refuse, even harder to exercise.
Bill 47 introduces a new provision, called “allowances” which allows an OHS Director to permit an employer or group of employers to “vary” from any provision in the OHS Code, the detailed OHS rules. Employers will exploit this provision to avoid compliance, with little regard for workers’ safety.
Bill 47 also makes a number of changes to the WCB Act. The bill removes employer obligation to pay for health benefits for injured workers. It gives the WCB Board the power to cut the benefits to injured workers and leaves it to the Board to determine a fair compensation level.
This bill now makes it more difficult for workers to pursue claims when workplace-related stress is an issue. The previous NDP government had amended the WCB Act to recognize the issues related to stress in the workplace.
The bill removes an employer’s obligation to re-hire an injured worker, giving employers the opportunity to use a workplace injury as an excuse to fire an unwanted worker.
Bill 47’s name is only half-right. The bill is more about cutting the so-called red tape and reducing WCB premiums for employers, rather than ensuring worker safety. Workers in Alberta will be less safe when this bill is implemented.
This is the latest in a series of anti-worker/anti-Union legislation made by the Jason Kenney led Conservative government to denigrate workers’ rights in Alberta. (See also Alberta’s Bill 1 – Say No)
With files from Jason Foster & Bob Barnetson, “Alberta Government Continues Rollback of Worker Protections” Canadian Law of Work Forum (November 10, 2020): http://lawofwork.ca/?p=13063