Labour leadership and union health and safety activists are demanding the Ontario government withdraw damaging changes to Ontario health and safety law from their omnibus budget bill.
They have delivered this message through formal submissions, letters to the Premier and press releases. However, the government has signalled they are determined to pass the changes. Consequently, unions are asking their members to call and write their Members of Provincial Parliament today.
At issue is the government’s proposed Schedule 16 changes to Ontario’s Health and Safety Act
designed to privatize the accreditation of employer health and safety programs as well health and safety training standards, a move long opposed by labour. These changes were buried in the budget bill, along with changes to 26 other pieces of legislation, including Schedule 17 changes to Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act
, which would change the methods that define the scope of work for a compulsory trade.
Labour submissions came out hard against privatization of OHS standards
Last week several union leaders and activists made submissions at hearings of the province’s Finance and Economic Affairs Committee on Bill 70, including those representing the Ontario Federation of Labour OFL), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – Ontario, Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), United Steelworkers (USW) District 6 and Service Employees International Union Local 2 (SEIU). All unanimously called for the removal of Schedule 16 from the bill.
Those who represented workers in the trades also called for the removal of Schedule 17 changes. Many pointed to very real safety concerns associated with proposals to “piecemeal” the trades.
In his presentation to the finance committee, Fred Hahn, CUPE Ontario President observed, “Neither of these schedules are mentioned in the government's fall economic update, which Bill 70 is supposedly implementing. Yet they are being rushed through the legislature
as part of the government's finance bill rather than being tabled as individual pieces of legislation… To ensure workers’ health and safety rights are maintained and to preserve the integrity of Ontario’s Trades, Schedule 16 and 17 must be removed from Bill 70.”
In her presentation to the committee, Sylvia Boyce, health, safety & environment co-ordinator for USW District 6 took direct aim at the government’s intent to outsource accreditation and training to third party industry-lead consultants. “Profit rather than real health and safety prevention
is the prime motivation in this system,” said Boyce. She added changes to OHSA will only serve to promote the Behaviour Based Safety programs her union and the entire labour movement has worked so hard to eliminate.
Shielding employer from proactive inspections a non-starter
Representing all OPSEU members at the committee hearings was Len Elliott, OPSEU Region 1 Regional Vice-President, (pictured above) whose day job is also a Ministry of Labour health and safety inspector. Elliott was equally adamant Schedule 16 had to go and particularly concerned with the Ministry’s plan to lessen the “unnecessary burden” on employers by shielding them from proactive or surprise inspections. “It is not unusual for employers to receive awards or be accredited even though their workplaces are horribly unsafe. Look no farther than the Westray mine disaster. Westray received the John T. Ryan safety award (for the second year in a row) just 11 days before 26 miners were killed in an early morning explosion at the mine,” observed Elliott.
Patty Coates, OFL Secretary-Treasurer expressed concern about the clear lack of worker involvement
in the government’s proposals. “There is little to no discussion, consultation or involvement of joint health and safety committees or of workers or unions. Even though … the Expert Advisory Panel … stated clearly that accreditation “be developed with participation of both employer and labour stakeholders,” said Coates. She added, “It is a transfer of burden to working people, who must now, with limited input, trust and hope that their employer values the safety of workers over profitability and efficiency.”
Employer self-regulation sure to harm workers
Ted Mansell, SEIU Local 2 Executive Vice-President expressed deep concern over employer self-regulation sure to come with the privatization of employer accreditation. “We have all watched the evening news with shock and dismay regarding the reprehensible carnage when the trucking industry was allowed to self-regulate. Truck tires were routinely and all-too-frequently flying off transport trucks, instantly becoming 100-kilometer torpedoes killing many innocent motorists. The Province quickly realized that “industry self-regulation” doesn’t work … Sadly and inexplicably, Bill 70 repeats this same “industry self-regulation” mistake again
and as such, our Local 2 members along with millions of other Ontario workers will be needlessly and callously put at serious health and safety risk going forward.”
Meantime Cathryn Hoy, ONA Vice President, Region 2 warned the finance committee members, “Passage of Schedule 16 threatens to rock the foundation of labour peace in this province … All Ontarians have a deep interest in what you are about to do to our health and safety.”
In response to labour concerns the Minister of Labour and Chief Prevention Officer have emailed some in the labour movement claiming communications around their plan to do away with proactive inspections were an “misunderstanding,” and once the bill is passed they will consult widely on what an accreditation program could look like.
After-the-fact consultations won’t undo harm to OHSA
USW District 6 Director Marty Warren rejected this offer in a follow up letter to Premiere Kathleen Wynne. “No amount of assurances will change the fact that your government will have enshrined into law the ability of the Chief Prevention Officer to empower private-for-profit consultants to recognize employer health and safety programs, as well as approve health and safety training programs and training providers. If your government is sincere about enacting a truly effective accreditation program, then we ask you to drop Schedule 16 from Bill 70 and sit down in a spirit of genuine cooperation
with trade unions and health and safety advocates in this province, and discuss how we might develop and administer a program that “builds up” working people.” Like Hahn he also insisted upon the removal of Schedule 17 from the bill.
Call for immediate action
Clause-by-clause discussions of Bill 70 are scheduled for Tuesday, December 6, 9:00-10:15 am and 3:00‑6:00 pm. With third and final reading of the Bill expected to take place Wednesday.
CUPE Ontario and ONA have established web pages to email your concern right away.
Tell your MPP – CUPE
Do not erode workplace safety – ONA
Many are also encouraging telephone calls. For a listing of all MPPS and their contact information both at Queen’s Park and Constituents Offices visit the Ontario Legislative Assembly website.