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.
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
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.
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.
This article was published in
April 7, 2021 - No. 25