Quebec Steelworkers Reject Bill 59

Representatives of the United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos working in mining operations on Quebec's North Shore, in Northern Quebec and Abitibi regions held a press conference on March 23 to address Bill 59 presently going through the adoption process in Quebec's National Assembly. They spoke up against the rollbacks on health and safety prevention and accountability measures related to occupational diseases and workplace injuries and deaths. USW Quebec Director Dominic Lemieux announced that the Syndicat des Métallos rejects the bill as unacceptable. It is worse than the current legislation, Lemieux said.

"This bill will weaken prevention measures by removing minimum standards and entrusting decision-making on prevention programs and related measures to the bosses alone. It goes so far as to deprive injured workers and victims of occupational diseases of care and support. This is not a 'modernization' of the law. It is seizing an opportunity, while the focus is on the pandemic, to turn back the clock 40 years on health and safety," Lemieux said.

Local union leaders from the region's mining sector spoke eloquently against the retrogressive measures contained in the bill.

"The reality of workplace health and safety is that the workers are the ones who live it. Prevention measures are better tailored, more effective and enjoy greater support when workers are involved in the decision making. Everyone loses if decisions are made by the employer alone. It will lead to deaths and more accidents," said Nadine Joncas, prevention representative at ArcelorMittal's Mont-Wright mine in Fermont.

André Racicot, President of USW Local 9291 at Westwood Mine and the Syndicat des Métallos' foremost expert in health and safety, denounced Bill 59 and the impact it will have at workplaces such as the Westwood mine in Abitibi, which has had its share of serious incidents in recent years, including five collapses that trapped workers underground, and a miner's death in 2017.

"They say in the mines that the laws and regulations were written with the blood of the miners. These rollbacks will compromise safety and lead to even more tragedies," Racicot said.

He also denounced the fact that injured or sick workers will find it more difficult to obtain compensation, particularly for recognition of occupational deafness, which means that thousands of workers will be deprived of hearing aids, after their work has destroyed their hearing.

Eric Savard, President of USW Local 9449 at the Raglan Mine (Glencore), said that weakening prevention measures and making it more difficult to get compensation will only embolden global mining companies like Glencore.

"Global companies are really powerful," he said. "Sometimes we wage a legal fight against them, and it's very difficult. The companies are powerful. With a small group of workers against a global company, you know the battles aren't always equal." He said that cutting off workers' minimum legal protection, as the bill does, is the last thing that should be done.

Dominic Lemieux concluded the press conference by commending the Steelworker representatives for their hard work and their dedication to the health and safety of workers in the plants and underground.

To view the press conference click here.

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum. Photo: Métallos )

This article was published in

April 7, 2021 - No. 25

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