Interview with United Steelworkers' Mining Sector Representative
"The Government Cannot Deny What Workers Have Done for 40 Years to Defend Occupational Health and Safety"
- André Racicot -
André Racicot is President of
United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9291 which represents, among others,
workers at Iamgold's Westwood Mine in Preissac in the
Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec.
Workers' Forum: How do you assess Bill 59 in relation to the right of workers to healthy and safe working conditions?
André Racicot: You have to remember that the current law, the Act respecting occupational health and safety,
recognizes four prevention mechanisms: the health program, the
prevention program, the health and safety committee and the prevention
representative. Currently more than 80 per cent of workers are not
these programs. The bill extends these to almost all sectors of the
economy, but with Bill 59 the government weakens all these provisions
in terms of workers' decision-making power by increasing the power of
For example, the health program that is established for specific
establishments is eliminated and incorporated into the prevention
program. The current health program aims, for example, to prevent work
accidents and occupational diseases in a given establishment.
Currently, the union must agree to the health program through its
the joint health and safety committee, and the physicians of the Public
Health Network in Occupational Health (RSPSAT) must also adopt it. From
now on, with Bill 59, employers will have all the power to determine
the content of the prevention program and the health program, now
incorporated into the prevention program, without the input
and support of the unions and without any medical advice, because the
specialized physicians of the RSPSAT are also excluded from the
process. According to the bill, if there is no agreement between the
unions and the employer, the employer alone will decide on the
bill also introduces the concept of multi-facility. According to the
bill, it will now be possible for employers with several establishments
to set up a single prevention program, a single health and safety
committee and a single prevention representative for all of their
establishments. For example, if we take the example of health care,
may be dozens of health care institutions in the same region. The
prevention representative could have to cover all the institutions,
covering long distances, instead of each institution having its own
representative. In addition, the bill cuts prevention hours. If there
is no agreement between the employer and the union, the employer
decides on the
hours and we have no recourse to challenge that. It is obvious that the
only reason the bill cuts prevention hours is to save money for
employers instead of saving lives.
At the level of the joint health and safety committees, workers will
no longer have access to the information they used to have, for
example, on the dangerous products used by the company. This
information will now be in the hands of the employer. Employers have
asked for this.
By an amendment to Bill 59 tabled by the government, the government
is proposing to remove the arbitrary risk assessment in different
sectors, which meant that prevention mechanisms applied according to
the level of risk. Bill 59
expands prevention mechanisms to most sectors, but the issue of
reducing the hours of prevention representatives and health and safety
committees remains and the ultimate decision is in the hands of
WF: Given everything you have just said, how would you characterize this Legault government bill?
AR: In my opinion, this bill is a major setback in all
our conditions. If I look at the experience of workers in my sector,
the mining sector, the figures show that fatalities have dropped
significantly over the last 40 years because of the interventions that
workers have made to get employers to adopt measures to improve health
and safety in the workplace. One death is one too many, but no one can
deny that our interventions have been successful. With this bill, it
will be more and more difficult to intervene, which will lead to more
accidents, including fatal ones.
The government's main concern with this bill is to lower employers'
costs, to save millions of dollars on the backs of workers. This is
unacceptable and must not be allowed to pass.
The government cannot decide for the workers and deny everything
that has been done for 40 years and show no respect for our efforts.
1. Bill 59 originally created three
levels of risk; low, medium and high. The number of meetings of the
health and safety committee and the number of hours that the prevention
representative was assigned varied according to the level of risk.
These three levels of risk were calculated on the basis of the cost of
occupational injuries in a given
sector of activity, spread over ten years. The bill called this a
disbursement from the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and
Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST). This was totally arbitrary
because, among other things, it did not take into account accidents
that are not reported, nor the systematic challenge by companies of
workers' claims for occupational injuries. In cases where the
interventions of workers and their unions has led to a decrease in
occupational injuries, a dangerous sector, such as mining, could have
been declared low risk and safety measures would have been reduced in
the sector. On March 10, the Quebec government tabled an amendment
will eliminate this provision about the levels of risk.
This article was published in
Number 18 - March 17, 2021
Interview with United Steelworkers' Mining Sector Representative: "The Government Cannot Deny What Workers Have Done for 40 Years to Defend Occupational Health and Safety"