Kevin McLean, Chair of the Health-Safety-Environment Committee of the Federation of Public Service Employees-CSN

My union is the Montreal Transit Union. I am an electromechanic and I do repairs on the mechanical components of the Montreal Metro. Bill 59 is very backward. It is an entirely pro-employer bill. For a long time now, employers have been asking for reforms that will turn the clock back with regards to workers' health and safety. They want to have health and safety protection that has the least possible impact on their business because having such measures restricts what they can do. When workers start enforcing safety standards, they can quickly shut down a business if conditions are not safe. That's why in the bill, health and safety conditions are left to the discretion of the employer.

In my union, our health and safety conditions are negotiated. They are part of the collective agreement. We assume that in the next agreement our employer will ask for concessions. They will say that the law does not provide for these things. They will want to take them away from us and we will have to fight even to keep what we have already achieved.

We did a survey of our member unions and we found that many union contracts say that health and safety standards are those that are in legislation. If the law changes, the health and safety standards for the workers covered by those union contracts change. To fight this, we are going to have to equip our unions to negotiate health and safety language so as to keep what we have and to assist those who have the legislation as the reference point for health and safety standards in their collective agreements. Otherwise, they will lose a lot.

For example, my collective agreement clearly states that there are six people who work 40 hours a week in health and safety. They are paid by the employer, and we meet twice a month with the employer in a health and safety committee meeting. We bring up issues. We discuss. We participate in investigations. All this is written in our collective agreement. In collective agreements where the law is the reference point, if the law changes the situation can change overnight. This may be legal, but it is shameful. It is unacceptable that we have to change our collective agreements to ensure that workers are protected.

In the bill, health and safety hours are left to the discretion of employers, which makes no sense. There is also an issue concerning employers with several workplaces. According to the bill, it will now be possible for employers who have 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. This could affect us very seriously at the Société de transport de Montréal, given the fact, for example, that each Metro station has its own civic address and that we have several different repair shops. What will happen if the employer uses this to say that it is a multi-establishment employer and so it can reduce the number of prevention representatives?

The federation is very active against Bill 59. We are participating in demonstrations. We participated in the 59-hour vigil that started on May 31, in front of the National Assembly.

Workers visit MNA's offices, January 2021

We have asked our members to contact their Member of the National Assembly (MNA), whether he or she is in government or in opposition. This is a very different method than simply having the central union write to the minister. We have had responses from MNAs. They are not used to this, to being questioned in this way, to being asked to take a position.

Then we organized 'phase two.' We made a Facebook post that said that the latest amendments proposed by Minister Boulet to Bill 59 are not only insufficient but downright backward and that the occupational health and safety law must protect all workers. I was the one who signed it, and we asked the unions to send it to their members and tell them to put it on their Facebook pages and tag their MNA. We gave them the list of MNAs and government ministers and the constituencies they represent.

We continue to put pressure. We are not going to give up. We need a health and safety law that protects all workers.

(Photos: FTQ)

This article was published in

August 20, 2021 - No. 72

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