Sonia Charette, United Steelworkers Representative in Abitibi-Témiscamingue

Vigil against Bill 59 at Quebec National Assembly, June 1, 2021

The reform brought about by Bill 59 does not help us at all. On the contrary, it will reduce the entire prevention and compensation component for the recognition of workers' occupational diseases.

As far as prevention is concerned, the main thing is the four prevention mechanisms that were introduced for the priority sectors in the Act respecting occupational health and safety that was adopted in 1979. Those were supposed to be applied to all sectors in 1985, but that never happened. 

Minister Boulet tells us that Bill 59 is good because now the prevention mechanisms will apply to all sectors. What he does not say is that these prevention mechanisms are diluted. Before, in the law, there were minimums that the employer had to abide by. In this bill, these minimums no longer exist. There will no longer be a minimum number of hours for prevention representatives to do their work, and no minimum hours for the work of health and safety committees. 

For the other two mechanisms, the prevention program and the health program specific to the establishment, the bill gives the employer the power to establish these programs unilaterally. The notion of joint representation, where workers and employers discuss problems and how to remedy them together, is eliminated. When workers are involved in solving problems they are more likely to implement the necessary preventive measures. The stated objective of the bill is to save employers $4.3 billion over ten years. They will do this on the backs of workers who will no longer be able -- or will have great difficulty -- to have occupational diseases recognized and to obtain compensation. Many will end up on social assistance.

Another aspect that is not addressed by the bill is the psychological aspect. Already, for all psychological injuries including burnout, for example, nine times out of 10 workers' claims are refused by the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST). The bill fails to deal with this problem. 

There is nothing on psychological injuries, except for a small section on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On this aspect, the government has just put in the bill what jurisprudence has already determined. They didn't add anything new. At the Westwood Mine we had a landslide a few months ago, one of five in the last few years. This is causing PTSD to our workers, and the CNESST is refusing to recognize this as an occupational injury. Another major issue in the mines is deafness. The bill will raise the threshold for recognition of occupational deafness.

We have met with all of the region's Members of the National Assembly to make them aware of the impacts of this bill. We elect people to represent us but we can't hold them accountable afterwards, so they do what they want because they are not accountable to us. They have to think of the region and not of their party.

We, the steelworkers, are convinced that if this bill passes, it will lead to problems in negotiating collective agreements. Since there are no longer any minimums on prevention measures in the law, the need to negotiate them will create more labour disputes.

(Photos: ATTAAT, FTQ)

This article was published in

August 20, 2021 - No. 72

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