September 14, 2017

Our Security Lies in Our Fight for the Rights of All!

Workers in Action to Defend Rights,
Health and Safety


Our Security Lies in Our Fight for the Rights of All!

Injured Workers Launch Ontario-Wide Campaign for Universal Workers' Compensation
Spirited Action in Leamington Opposes Criminalization of Migrant Workers
Primacy of the Human Factor at the Workplace - Pierre Chénier


Quebec Steelworkers Demand Mining Companies Take Up Their Responsibility for Safe Working Conditions - André Racicot, President, USW Local 9291
Newfoundland Refinery Workers Reject Company Dictate and Demand a Say
in Their Safety
- Glenn Nolan, President, USW Local 9316

Our Security Lies in Our Fight for the Rights of All!

Injured Workers Launch Ontario-Wide Campaign for Universal Workers' Compensation

Injured workers press conference at Queen's Park, September 12, 2017

The Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) launched their province-wide organizing campaign under the banner "Workers' Comp Is a Right" on September 11. The action coincided with the return of MPPs to the Ontario Legislature. The following day ONIWG held a press conference at Queen's Park to present their campaign to the media.

Karl Crevar speaks at campaign launch,
September 11, 2017

The campaign was launched at the offices of the Workers' Action Centre, with many injured workers from Toronto along with ONIWG member organizations together with their allies and friends in attendance. The participants discussed the three demands that ONIWG has put forward and why these are considered central in the organizing work and to arm activists with the information they need to mobilize others to join in.

ONIWG's three demands are:

 1. No cuts to compensation based on phantom jobs

 2. Listen to the healthcare professionals treating the injured workers

 3. Stop cutting benefits based on pre-existing conditions.[1]

Local meetings will take place around the province to launch the organizing work. In Toronto the meeting takes place September 19. For information on this and other upcoming meetings click here.

Karl Crevar, a past-President of ONIWG who has been active for more than 27 years on the concerns of injured workers, heads up the provincial organizing campaign. He, along with ONIWG President Willie Noiles and Heidi McFarland, an injured worker from Mississauga, led the discussion.

Launch of province-wide campaign, September 11, 2017.

Karl reviewed the history of workers' compensation legislation in Ontario and the cuts made by successive governments of all political hues starting from 1990. Since that time, there have been three major pieces of legislation affecting workers' compensation, none of which enhanced workers' rights. Karl presented some of the history of injured workers organizing to defend their rights in the face of these cuts. As well, he provided background on the three demands being put forward in the provincial campaign.

Karl pointed out that it is up to injured workers to defend their rights; they cannot rely on the politicians or any other force to do it for them. Among the tools in this organizing campaign are holding meetings to bring together workers in different local areas, and gathering signatures for petitions and insisting that their local MPPs present them in the legislature. He pointed out that the provincial election is coming up in 2018 and injured workers need to organize so that their demands are recognized as election issues. All those running for office must be forced to reckon with the demands of injured workers. It is not a matter of injured workers saying we support one or another political party but of putting forward our own demands that defend our rights, he said.

Discussion continued on various aspects of the struggles of injured workers and how to make their voice and organization more effective. The meeting reflected the determination of injured workers to assert their collective strength and to continue their fight for justice.


1. Demands of the Province-Wide Organizing Campaign of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups

1. No cuts to compensation based on phantom jobs

Injured workers demand the practice of "deeming" must be ended. This is the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) practice of assessing that an injured worker is capable of doing a certain job at a certain wage, even though no such job is available or the worker is not able to do the work. The amount workers are "deemed" to be making is deducted from their benefits. With the increase in the Ontario minimum wage, many of these injured workers will be "deemed" to be earning more resulting in further cuts to their benefits. "Deeming" or "Determining" are among the main ways the WSIB cuts benefits to injured workers.

2. Listen to the healthcare professionals treating the injured workers

Reports released by ONIWG, the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Industrial Accident Victims' Group of Ontario in 2016 and 2017 have exposed the WSIB's use of their own staff doctors -- or paper doctors -- to overrule the recommendations of the actual physicians treating injured workers. The staff doctors then rule workers are fit to return to work before completing their treatment and before having the proper time to heal.

3. Stop cutting benefits based on pre-existing conditions

In particular since 2010, the WSIB has begun a practice of aggressively reducing or eliminating benefits to injured workers whom it claims suffer a disability not due to a workplace injury but because they had "pre-existing conditions." These conditions -- as opposed to a "pre-existing impairment" -- did not affect the worker's performance prior to their workplace injury and are so broadly defined as to include factors that are a normal part of aging. A worker who is hired to do a job based on their years of experience is then penalized, if injured, because of their age. Injured workers are demanding this practice end.

Details on the demands are available in the document "Workers' Comp Is a Right."

To find out more about the campaign click here and go to the action toolkit  to get your campaign materials. Join the ONIWG mailing list by e-mailing: and follow ONIWG online at:

Twitter: @ONIWG

To find injured worker groups and supports in your community, click here.

(Photos: ONIWG)

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Spirited Action in Leamington Opposes Criminalization of Migrant Workers

Activists from the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union (OPSEU) together with Justicia for Migrant Workers organized a rally and demonstration at the Leamington Municipal Offices on September 10. They were there to make a bold statement against any attempt by the Leamington Town Council or the Business Improvement Association to push the passage of an anti-loitering bylaw. Such a bylaw clearly targets migrant workers who congregate in the downtown area after work and on weekends.

Talk of considering such a bylaw came up at a July 19 special meeting to discuss revitalization of the uptown district of Leamington. Reports indicate that the suggestion for such a bylaw was endorsed by the chair of the Business Improvement Association who spoke about workers congregating downtown as being threatening.

While the city has denied it will pass such a bylaw criminalizing and marginalizing migrant workers, the demonstrators sent a loud message that any such attempts to target workers for their lifestyle and living conditions are unacceptable. Representatives of unions, the Windsor and London labour councils and activists groups from Windsor, Leamington, Chatham, London as well as Toronto including a contingent from the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) all participated, lending their voice.

Speakers emphasized that they would not accept the targeting of migrant or any workers under any circumstances. The demonstrators affirmed that migrant workers in particular built the billion dollar greenhouse and agricultural industry in and around Leamington. Their contributions should be celebrated not denigrated. They should be rewarded for their hard work with the best cultural and living conditions. Their rights must be upheld along with the rights of all instead of targeting them as a law and order problem.

Other speakers drew out the racist and diversionary basis of official claims and proposed measures which target migrant workers, as well as the hypocrisy which could well be criminal of the Trudeau government.  In the NAFTA negotiations it claims to defend Mexican workers yet here in Canada the denial of their rights is sanctioned and a regime of super-exploitation as cheap and disposable labour is enforced.

"Stand Up and Fight with Solidarity!"
Excerpts from Speech by Gabriel Allahdua

Gabriel Allahdua, a migrant worker from St. Lucia in the Caribbean, worked for four years in greenhouses under the federal government's Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). He spoke to the demand of migrant workers for the affirmation of their rights and clearly identified the political nature of the ongoing violations of rights.

"This area here is called the tomato capital. Who are the people who made it that, who continue to make it the tomato capital? [...] For the past 51 years migrant workers have been coming to this community and to Canada to harvest fruit and vegetables in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program."

Holding up a tree branch Gabriel compared the tree to the situation facing migrant workers. "This is a 51 year old tree. I want to tell you about the tree, stem, branches, leaves and also about the roots. The Stem. Why I am in Canada? I am here to do...(a)ll the 'D' jobs, all the dirty jobs, dangerous jobs, the 'D'... jobs. But the federal government says I have no rights in Canada. The federal government who wants us to do the dirty jobs ties us to our employer for our work permits. The federal government designed the program and that is what we are fighting today. Rights. I have no rights in Canada!" Gabriel said. "Is that freedom, is that ...?" he asked.

"Each and every fruit you eat has 20 injustices bound up in it. If I speak up they send me home. Is that freedom, justice, fairness? Equality? It is illegal for migrant farm workers to unionize.... No government of Canada has signed, ratified or recognized the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers.

"Within the roots of that tree, workers have been used, abused, refused. That's Canada, the land of freedom and fairness," Gabriel said.

"What about the residential schools? Truth and reconciliation commission? It's the system that dehumanizes and exploits at all levels. That's what we are fighting. Why we're here today. This happens at every level of government, even at the lowest level with bylaws," Gabriel added.

"What to do about it? Sit back and watch? Or stand up and fight with solidarity!" Gabriel asked.

He gave the example of last year's caravan organized by Justicia in which activists caravanned from Leamington to Windsor and all the way to Ottawa to bring attention to the demand for justice for migrant workers. "It's about social change, a long change but with solidarity we can bring about change,"  Gabriel concluded.

Speakers Defend Rights of Migrant Workers

Chris Ramsaroop, a representative of Justicia for Migrant Workers, explained that Leamington is the location of the largest concentration of migrant workers in Canada. He said that migrant workers built the community and are responsible for billions of dollars coming to this community. He declared that any attempt by the city of Leamington to pass anti-migrant bylaws will be met by fierce resistance. He called on all to mobilize to say NO! to hate, discrimination, racism and attacks on migrant workers. He invited everyone to participate in an action on September 23, in St. Catharines when Justicia will march in the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival to affirm the rights of migrant workers who work in the Niagara region. He also said another action is to be held in Leamington on September 24.

Elizabeth Ha, an OPSEU activist and member of the Windsor and District Labour Council Executive Board, explained that when she learned about the possibility of an anti-loitering bylaw in Leamington she decided a stand needed to be taken. Leamington is Canada's tomato capital because of migrant workers. They work all day out in the sun with little to no health and safety equipment. They contribute to the economy and yet the city and Business Improvement Association want to make some racist bylaw against them and treat them as some sort of threat. They live, work here, contribute to our economy. They should be thanked every day for what they do, she said.

Other speakers included representatives of the Windsor and London Labour Councils, CUPE Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, the IWW and the Windsor Workers' Education Centre. Following the speakers an impromptu march was held through downtown Leamington from City Hall to the "Big Tomato" tourist information booth.

During informal discussion, participants said the action had a broad character shedding light on the criminal hypocrisy of the Trudeau government. In the midst of NAFTA negotiations, the Liberal government loudly claims to defend Mexican workers yet here in Canada it sanctions the denial of the rights of migrant workers and their exploitation as cheap and disposable labour. Many migrant workers are from Mexico.

Others spoke highly of the Canadian working class and its refusal to be lulled to sleep by the likes of of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland who love to talk about workers' rights abroad in Mexico, the United States and elsewhere while saying nothing of the violation of workers' rights with impunity right here in Canada. For the working class, accountability begins at home here in Canada!

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Primacy of the Human Factor at the Workplace

The two interviews published in this issue of Workers' Forum on the workers' struggle for the right to healthy and safe working conditions reveal problems workers are facing on this front. The empire-building of the global private interests includes the dangerous demand that the human factor be eliminated when it comes to determining the working conditions of workers. The imperialists want to eliminate the voice of the human beings who do the work, the workers who produce the goods and deliver the services that society depends on for its existence.

Although working conditions in terms of their safety and security directly affect the very lives of workers, and in many cases entire communities, every effort is being made to exclude workers from decision-making and even to declare that the human factor is the cause of problems. This imperialist consideration leads to the criminalization of workers who defend their health and safety accusing them of interfering with productivity and trade.

Workers at the Come by Chance refinery in Newfoundland and Labrador and in the mining sector in Quebec are sounding the alarm about the dangers and tragedies that lie ahead when the human factor is not recognized as the essential and most important aspect of production, which must have a voice in decision-making. The processes that are supposed to give them a voice within the framework of the institutions of civil society are being liquidated by global private interests in their frenzy of empire-building.

In the Quebec mining sector, the imperialists through their Quebec Mining Association are deliberately and openly blocking the functioning of two committees of the government's Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Occupational Health and Safety Commission overseeing work practices in the mines. Miners have relied on those committees to express their views. At the Come By Chance Refinery, the new U.S. owners are ignoring the established Process Safety Management regime and the joint health and safety committee, leaving refinery workers marginalized with respect to important problems and changes at their workplace.

Workers cannot play their essential role as producers of social wealth without a say in the conditions at their workplace, including importantly the issue of health and safety. But this right to a voice is not recognized under the hoax of private ownership and property rights, which view workers and their demands in the outmoded and skewed fashion as a cost of production and hindrance to the competitiveness of the private interests on the world markets.

In the context of imperialist globalization, the ruling elite consider the voice of workers and their rights within the established norms of civil society an obstacle to empire-building and every effort is being made to eliminate them. It must not pass!

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Quebec Steelworkers Demand Mining Companies Take Up Their Responsibility for Safe Working Conditions
"Prevention is taking a hit. We do not want to go back
to the 1980s when there were several fatal accidents
in mines in Quebec"

Workers' Forum: The Syndicat des Métallos held a press conference in Quebec City on September 12, denouncing the situation in Québec mines with regard to the health and safety of workers. Can you tell us more about the situation?

André Racicot: The press briefing was aimed in particular at denouncing the boycott by the Quebec Mining Association (AMQ), which systematically blocks the functioning of the Plan of Action and Regulatory Review Committees of  the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Occupational Health and Safety Commission (CNEEST).

CNEEST established two very important committees, the Regulatory Review Committee and the Action Plan Committee, which are tripartite employer-union-government committees. Every year, the Plan of Action Committee decides what will be the focus of the work of the inspectors during the year. For example, there are a lot of collapses happening in mines right now. We want the action plan this year to include a plan to deal with these collapses. In March 2016 the employers, unions and CNEEST agreed to draw up an action plan to deal with this problem and in October 2016 another meeting was held where we all agreed. Everyone agreed that there was an increase in underground collapses, leading to more and more workers getting seriously injured.

Meanwhile, CNEEST issued an order to discontinue the method of removing the ore to get it to the surface and loading explosives simultaneously. The employers have challenged this order in the courts and have declared through the AMQ that they were no longer available for the meetings of the two committees.

As for the CNEEST, it does not enforce things; it does not force employers to participate in the committees. It has been almost a year and a half now that nothing has moved on these committees. Prevention is taking a hit. We do not want to go back to the 1980s when there were several fatal accidents in mines in Quebec.

We have made the public, CNEEST and the government of Quebec aware that it is time to act because we will not accept a return to the way things were in the past. We have the solution. The solution is to improve regulation, if there are accidents. Whenever a fatal accident occurs, we look at whether the regulations are adequate. If they are not adequate, they are adjusted, often to make them more severe. This is necessary because the safety of workers is at stake.

WF: Could you explain the court challenge to the CNEEST order for employers to discontinue the method of removing ore to the surface and loading explosives simultaneously?

AR: Several mining employers challenged CNEEST's ban on this operation commonly called "fast mining." This method permits the removal of ore to take it to the surface from a lower level in the mine while simultaneously loading explosives for use at a higher level. In other words, a worker is loading explosives at a higher level while a remote-controlled loader loads ore. It is an unsafe operation. A fire, for example, may occur in the lower part of the mine and spread and the worker loading the explosives above will not notice it and be fatally injured in an explosion.

Back in 2003, I believe, the United Steelworkers, including myself and my local, went to court and won a ruling that prohibited the use of this method because it was considered dangerous. However, the employers started to use this method secretly and it came to a point, because of an accident I think, where the CNEEST reviewed that file and prohibited the method. It sent notices of corrections to miners who were using this method.

In our opinion, it is in retaliation for this order that the mining companies are boycotting the committees. The employers say this is not the case, but we are convinced this is the case because they started saying they were no longer available to take part in these committees after CNEEST issued its order prohibiting the method of fast mining.

In addition to the issue of health and safety, there is no reason to use this fast mining method. For example at the Iamgold's Westwood mine in Abitibi, we have more than 300 active sites. Even if they do not do the operation simultaneously (at a lower and higher level), they can load ore at another site so there will still be ore going to the mill. This will not damage the mine's profitability.

So we identified a risk, we set up a committee that should work with an action plan to coordinate our action and address this problem, but no plan is being implemented.

WF: What are the Steelworkers' demands in this context?

AR: Our demand is to reactivate these CNEEST committees immediately. Second is to put in place measures to stop injuries and deaths underground. At the moment, we are having problems in all the mines across Quebec with rock bursts and collapses. It is a problem that has been highlighted through these committees. The CNEEST is well aware of it but it is reluctant to take a stand and we are pushing them to act.

In 2017, there were two deaths in the mining sector in Quebec. In the regulatory review committee, we requested that a special committee on remotely operated and remotely controlled operations be set up. Right at that time, in February, there was a casualty in a mine related to that kind of operation. The problem was identified as connected with these remote-controlled loaders.

At this time, employers are in the process of introducing full-fledged remote-controlled operations. There would be no more operators. The entire work is being done from the surface. There are no regulations currently in place in Quebec regarding such operations. We want to regulate this so that we do not let employers act as they please. Employers want to limit the number of operators. We have a mine in Val-d'Or where the employer has eliminated 20 operators in the loading of ore by putting in a type of conveyor that begins its operations from the surface and goes down to load the ore. The ore being carried to the surface is entirely managed from the surface. These machines work almost 24 hours a day, even while explosives are being loaded.

We are highly critical of the Quebec Mining Association because it is blocking these issues from being addressed while the CNEEST is putting very little pressure on the mining companies. We want the CNEEST to stop closing its eyes to what is happening and to force the parties to take up their responsibilities.

We workers do not accept the current situation. We are not going to go backwards.

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Newfoundland Refinery Workers Reject Company Dictate and Demand a Say in Their Safety

Glenn Nolan begins 150-kilometre journey.

On the evening of Labour Day, Glenn Nolan, President of United Steelworkers Local 9316 representing the Come By Chance Refinery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, left town to travel by bike and foot the 150 kilometres from the refinery to the Newfoundland Legislature in St. John's. Nolan, who has cystic fibrosis, made the trip with Perry Feltham, the union's Vice-President and Chair of its health and safety committee at the refinery. They are determined to raise the serious problems workers are facing at the refinery in terms of their health and safety.

The Come By Chance refinery is run by North Atlantic Refining and owned by New York-based commodity traders SilverPeak Strategic Partners. The oil refinery produces petroleum products such as heating oil, propane, diesel fuel, gasoline and others.


Workers' Forum: You chose Labour Day to make your trip in defence of the right of workers to work under healthy and safe working conditions.

Glenn Nolan: Yes, the action started on the evening of Labour Day, at 8:00 pm. Workers have been fighting for the rights of labour all these years and Labour Day was a fitting day to undertake this action. Also, 8:00 pm is safer, with less traffic. We started the venture at 8:00 pm and finished it at 2:00 pm the next day. We walked and also used a little motorized pedal bike.

I did the trip with the Vice-President of the Local and Health and Safety Chair, who did the driving. We had a lot of support along the way. We had people stopping to have coffee with us, sitting around with us, plus there were all the emails of support that we received. A week before, we let everybody know we were going to do this. We arrived at Confederation Building at 2:00 pm where we were met by 20 people or so. We then had a meeting with the Minister Responsible for Workplace NL, Sherry Gambin-Walsh.

WF: What was the purpose of the action?

GN: We did not have a choice. It came to a point that nobody was listening to us, from the government to the company. We have a right to know as workers and a right to be involved. This is our safety.

We are supposed to be part of a Process Safety Management (PSM), which is about best safe practices at the refinery. The union signed a document in 2014, a Code of Practice, which is part of PSM and has many elements that are aimed at getting us involved in the process. The document was also signed by the government and the company but they never utilized it during these years. We were the first in Canada to sign it. It was a first in Canada. PSM exists mostly in the U.S. where it is actually part of the law.

PSM includes what is called Management of Change (MOC) but we are not getting it the way it should be. We are put in a situation in which we could have an incident and we are not involved.

To give you an example, the company makes a reduction in a unit, going from two operators to one. According to the PSM there should be a Management of Change, in which all the hazards that we are going to come up against by reducing the unit are shown. There is supposed to be a process through which all the obstacles that are going to be faced regarding health and safety are listed, where new procedures are spelled out if they are going to be needed, emergency response is planned, and so on. There has to be a process that draws you to reach these conclusions, how workers are going to be safe, and workers need to be involved in the process. Workers have a right to know what the new procedures are going to be.

What is happening is that if they do not consult us, we end up going to the government. When I met the Minister, she said that she had 163 directives that were issued to the company and the company is in compliance. But we are telling the Minister that these 163 directives mean that we are not safe there, that is why we have these 163 directives. Because if the process was implemented, we would not have those directives, we would be involved. The process is supposed to resolve the issues without directives.

We are reminded of the situation we lived in 1998 when we had an explosion at the refinery in which two brothers died. There also, they did not have the proper process of management of change. The whole thing went back to the relationship between the company and the union, to the Joint Health and Safety Committee; us versus them. The same scenario is repeating itself, instead of the problems being solved.

We asked a year ago to sit down with the company and the government, to work this out and do a proper Process Safety Management. We never heard back from them.

WF: When you met the Minister, you presented demands regarding your situation.

GN: We presented two demands. One is that we want to be part of the Process Safety Management, as we are supposed to be. Second is that our joint health and safety committee should not be dysfunctional the way it is. The director of safety on the company's side is dictating what is going to happen. The committee is not operating. The unionized part of the committee cannot function when the other side will not listen.

We are going to keep fighting to represent the workers no matter what happens. This fight is not over until the work is made safe for the workers. It was not like that at the plant before the new owners came in and started their bullying. To have a say is critical. This is our safety. It cannot be dictated to us.

I do not believe that we should have to do this but we are going to do it again if needed. We received a lot more support than we expected. People all along the trip were showing their support and we got the inspiration of these emails, people saying, "we are behind you," "whatever you need we will back you," "how can we help you?" The response is the same inside the plant.

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