Workers Health & Safety Centre

Urgent appeal! Gov’t Bill threatens independence of OHS inspectors, says Labour

Urgent appeal! Gov’t Bill threatens independence of OHS inspectors, says Labour
Ontario labour leaders are asking for support to defeat an omnibus bill which empowers Ministry of Labour bureaucrats to direct how health and safety inspectors do their job.

The proposed Bill 177, Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017 , introduced in the legislature November 14 and quickly passed second reading, is at the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs for one day of public hearings Thursday, December 7, 2017. Without significant public outcry, the Bill could become law in weeks.
The Bill would amend more than 100 laws, many unrelated to the provincial budget, and includes 46 schedules including one with proposed amendments to the Occupational Health & Safety Act (the Act).

Amendments to the Act contained in Schedule 30 of Bill 177 would empower the Deputy Minister of Labour to establish written directives that inspectors must follow on the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Act and its regulations.

Calling the amendments “dangerous”, Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, is demanding removal of the concerning amendments. In a letter to the Minister of Labour the OFL states, “It is the responsibility of the MOL as an employer to ensure that all MOL employees from senior management to front line staff have the training and skills to do their job.” The MOL already has the authority and responsibility to manage the inspectorate through policies, procedures and directives to ensure high quality, consistent enforcement.

The OFL is concerned the amendments:
  • Allow a Deputy Minister to write law, essentially by-passing the elected Legislature and Cabinet 
  • Undermine the legal authority of the MOL inspectorate and remove the ability of inspectors to use their discretion to enforce the Act
  • Jeopardizes inspectors’ ability to protect workers’ health and safety with threats of discipline and fines under the Act for failing to follow MOL directives 
  • Ensure employers with valid OHS accreditation would not be targeted for proactive inspections.

The OFL insists its fears are well-founded. During the SARS crisis in 2003 MOL inspectors were forbidden from dealing with the concerns of healthcare workers who were referred back to their manager. Two nurses died during the outbreak. The Campbell Commission into SARS would conclude MOL inspectors were sidelined during the outbreak, a deliberate policy decision by senior Ministry staff.

Labour has fought and won this fight before. Six years ago the government sought similar powers as they were drafting contentious amendments to the Act through Bill 160.  Labour was able to fend off the last-minute proposal then, but will need all-out support to defeat these resurrected proposals now.
There are proposed amendments to the Act which labour does support which would:
  • Require employers who lease workspace to notify the Ministry if a committee or a health and safety representative has identified potential structural inadequacies of a workplace as a source of danger or hazard to workers. (This comes in response to findings of public inquiry into the Elliot Lake Algo Centre Mall collapse in 2012 in which two died, including one worker).
  • Allow for regulations to expand circumstances in which reporting an accident or other incident under section 53 of the Act is required and may require additional notice obligations to workplaces and sectors beyond construction and mining.
  • Increase the maximum fine of a person convicted under section 66 of the Act from $25,000 to $100,000 and raise the maximum fine to corporations convicted from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
  • Improve the statute of limitation for bringing a prosecution under the Act or the regulations. To include one year from the day an inspector becomes aware of the offense.

Consequently, the OFL urges you to take action today! You can do so by:
  • Contacting your Member of Provincial Parliament with your concerns.
  • Making an oral presentation to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs public hearings in Toronto this Thursday, December 7, 2017 to consider Bill 177. This may be the only day of public hearings.
    Provide your contact name, mailing address, phone number, and email address to the Clerk of the Committee by 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, December 5, 2017.
  • Sending a written submission to the Clerk of the Committee
    Send your written submission by 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 7, 2017 to:
    Room 1405, Whitney Block, Queen's Park, Toronto, ON M7A 1A2
    Telephone: (416) 325-3506 (Collect calls will be accepted)
    Facsimile:   (416) 325-3505
    TTY:           (416) 325-3538

WHSC-related articles:
Elliot Lake Inquiry issues recommendations to help safeguard workers
Inspecting workplaces and issuing penalties leads to lower injuries

To learn more:
Call:     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative.