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Bill 47: Reducing the Right to Participate in Health and Safety

The third in a series of blogs on workplace health and safety in Alberta.

Any respectful workplace health and safety system, one that actually ensures workers make it home safely at the end of their shifts, includes three fundamental rights for workers: the right to know, the right to participate and the right to refuse unsafe work.

The Right to Participate

The second key right, is the right to participate. The right to participate is crucial in allowing workers to share their knowledge and skills – often developed over years of doing specific jobs. In many cases, workers are in the best position to evaluate health and safety measures because they do the work on a daily basis. Workers participating in their workplaces health and safety system makes workplaces safer for everyone.

Restricting Participation

Instead of embracing workers’ knowledge and desire to have safe workplaces, the UCP are making changes to legislation that severely restrict workers’ participation in health and safety matters. These changes are contained within Bill 47, the so called Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020.

Less Functional Health and Safety Committees

When done well, these committees are designed for workers and employers to work together to make worksites safer for everyone. For these committees to work it is vital that workers and employers share responsibilities and rights on the committee, that everyone on the committee has adequate training and support, and that the committee is actually involved in worksite health and safety issues. Instead of ensuring these committees are positive contributions to worksites, the UCP have scraped many key aspects that made the committees functional.

Fewer Health and Safety Committees

First, the UCP made changes to limit the worksites that would actually have these committees, excluding oil and gas and construction worksites specifically, and any others with a prime contractor. These sites often have an extremely complicated health and safety system because of the multiple employers. These sites must now have some sort of system designed by the employer but there is no requirement to have a committee, no requirement for worker participation, and no requirement to even hold meetings.

Removing Worker Choice in Representatives

For all other worksites with over 20 workers, the UCP have removed from legislation any language to guide the functioning of the committee including requirements on quorum, on when and how meetings can be called, and how other workers can learn about what the committee is doing. The UCP also removed how worker representatives for the committee were selected by other workers, leaving the door open for employers to hand pick workers they want.

Reducing Committee Activities and Duties

Many of the activities and duties of the joint committees have been removed so they will no longer check the effectiveness of health and safety rules on a worksite, no longer develop programs and promote health and safety information to workers. The committee will no longer be involved in inspecting unsafe work, or serious incidents when workers are injured. Employers are also no longer required to provide time for committee members to receive training in workplace health and safety.

Worse Rules for Small Worksites

Many of the same changes exist for the Health and Safety Representative for workplaces that employ 5-19 workers. For these worksites that are non-unionized, the employer gets to pick the worker representative instead of allowing the other workers to pick the person they want to represent their interests.

Removing Large Chunks from the OHS Act

The UCP have claimed some of the more detailed sections removed from the act, related to these committees, will be put into the code; however, given the UCP’s past actions there is no guarantee all clauses would be included and not altered at some later date. Changes to the OHS Code are very easy to make and do not require new legislation like changes to the OHS Act.

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Overall, these changes make it harder for workers to participate in health and safety in their workplaces. This means that the very people who are impacted most, the workers, are being left out of what could be life and death choices.

More to come…

This is part of a series looking at Bill 47. Click here to read the first and second in the blog series. In the next blog we will look at how the UCP changes impact the right to refuse unsafe work.