April 7, 2021 - No. 25

Right of Workers to Determine Health and Safety Conditions!

Opposition to Quebec Bill Dismantling Occupational Health and Safety Regime

March 23, 2021. Demonstration against Bill 59. (CSN)

Quebec Steelworkers Reject Bill 59
• "This Bill Means Reduced Treatment and Compensation" - Interview,
Félix Lapan

Farmers' Movement Holds Steady - J. Singh

Right of Workers to Determine Health and Safety Conditions!

Opposition to Quebec Bill Dismantling Occupational Health and Safety Regime

Opposition continues to be expressed to Quebec Bill 59, An Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime. Workers' organizations from different sectors of the economy are speaking out to oppose both the content of the legislation and the manner in which it is being enacted.

Bill 59 was devised by a few cabinet ministers who met for months with a handful of people behind closed doors. The working conditions, security, lives and jobs of those affected by the changes are not the same as those who are dictating the changes which are to be made. As a matter of democratic principle that is not right. The government tabled the bill in October 2020, then held a few days of perfunctory hearings at the end of January 2021. The aim of these perfunctory hearings was to say that those concerned had been given a chance to give their input. The Labour Minister spoke about reaching a consensus of "stakeholders." His conception of who are the "stakeholders" fulfills the definition of the word fraud. 

The bill has more than 300 articles. On March 10, the Minister tabled over 100 amendments. The bill is now being studied, clause by clause, by the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and the Economy, made up of representatives of parties with seats in the National Assembly. The committee will vote on the bill as amended. Once this process is over, it will go back to the National Assembly for adoption.

The government claims that its prior consultation with hand-picked individuals is a modernized process despite the fact that injured workers and organizations concerned with health and safety do not drive the changes.

The bill reduces or eliminates access to treatments for injuries and illness, medical assistance, rehabilitation and compensation, all in the name of "saving money" for those who buy workers' capacity to work, the most powerful of which are the global private interests which form cartels and coalitions to get legislation passed which favours them. The bill furthermore concentrates all decision-making over prevention programs, health programs, hours allotted for the work of prevention representatives, organizing of the health and safety committees and so on, in the hands of the employers, eliminating the legal space that previously existed for the workers' organizations and representatives to have some input.

Workers rightfully consider this legislation a major abuse of power that must not pass. Workers must have a decisive say in the determination of the health and safety conditions under which they work. Workers' Forum supports the demands of Quebec workers that this bill should be scrapped and that the health and safety regime must be based on workers' demands and rights.

(Photos: UTTAM)

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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 )

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"This Bill Means Reduced Treatment
and Compensation"

Félix Lapan is a community organizer with the injured workers' defence organization the Union des travailleuses et travailleurs accidentés ou malades (UTTAM)..

Workers' Forum recently spoke with him about the consequences that the Quebec government's Bill 59 will have on injured workers if it is adopted. Due to the length of the interview it will be published in two parts. Today we are publishing information on the impact of Bill 59 on workers with regard to the recognition of occupational diseases and their entitlement to medical assistance, treatment and rehabilitation services. We will publish information on the impact on the right to monetary compensation in a later issue.

Workers' Forum: According to UTTAM's investigation, what consequences will the Legault government's Bill 59 have on injured and sick workers if it is adopted?

Félix Lapan: Generally speaking, this bill means reduced treatment and compensation benefits for injured workers.

For example, the bill will make it more difficult to have many claims for work-related illnesses accepted. It attacks the right to medical assistance, the right to treatment, medication, devices like orthotics and prosthetics that are supplied by the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) and it attacks the right to rehabilitation for workers who have suffered permanent disabilities.

With respect to victims of occupational diseases, barriers are being created for people suffering from hearing loss and lead poisoning. It will be much more difficult to have hearing loss and lead poisoning recognized as occupational diseases.[1] The CNESST is being given regulatory power to add barriers to the recognition of all occupational diseases, which is of great concern to us. Moreover, the Ministry of Labour, in its document on the impact of the bill, is projecting millions of dollars in savings due to rejection of workers' claims for occupational illnesses and injuries, hearing loss in particular. In introducing the bill, the Minister of Labour touted it as a measure that will produce $4.3 billion over 10 years in "savings" for employers who fund the CNESST through their premiums.

So, for victims of occupational diseases, there is a reduction in access to treatments and compensation.

Once a claim is accepted, whether related to an illness or an accident, the new legislation reduces the worker's entitlement to medical assistance. What is included in medical assistance is changed. There is an article in the current legislation that says that it is the responsibility of the CNEEST to provide all medical assistance. The CNESST currently pays 100 per cent of the cost of medication, orthotics, prosthetics and a whole list of treatments in private clinics. Bill 59 changes this article, article 194 of the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases (LATMP), which states that medical assistance is paid for by the board, that no fees can be charged to a worker for medical assistance needed as a result of an injury. The bill removes this section and says that the CNESST will be entitled to adopt a regulation permitting it to charge part of the medical assistance costs to the workers. With respect to drugs, and this is a first in the history of the plan, with this regulation they will no longer pay for all drugs.

According to the bill, only orthotics and prosthetics specified in a regulation still to be created will be paid for, so not all necessary devices will be paid for. The CNESST already applies internal policies that limit access to medical assistance, even though the law does not allow this, and these decisions are therefore often overturned by the courts. Now it's not just going to be an internal policy, it's going to be a regulation. Will the regulation be that they reimburse drugs at 80 per cent like a private insurer? Are there going to be drugs that are excluded from the plan? We don't know. The day after the law is passed, the CNESST will be able to publish its regulations in the Official Gazette and specify how access to medical assistance will be limited. Anything that is taken out of the law and put into regulatory powers for the CNESST will be out of our control. They can change the rules of the game at any time without going through a debate in the National Assembly, without amending legislation. When a regulation is published in the Official Gazette we have 45 days to comment on it, after which the regulation comes into force by a cabinet order.

With Bill 59 there are many things that move from the legislation to regulations made by the CNESST. For example, the list of occupational diseases that are protected by the Act will move from the legislation into a regulation that the CNESST can amend as it sees fit. The obstacles that workers face if they have claims for occupational deafness and lead poisoning could be put in the way of workers with many other injuries and illnesses. They have just set a blood lead level, which has nothing to do with science, that must be reached to have lead poisoning recognized. They could do the same thing for a lot of metals, almost all metals, for many toxic substances. All of a sudden, the CNESST becomes the legislator.

We have a system that is supposed to provide treatment for workers' injuries and illnesses. To put part of the costs of treatment on sick and injured workers is unacceptable.

The scenario that we are currently seeing with the regulation on medical assistance is the same scenario that was in the CNESST`s plans in 2012. At that time it was Bill 60 which would have provided for lump-sum treatment envelopes, a set amount for each illness or injury, with treatment provided until the designated amount was spent. [Bill 60 died when the Quebec government of the day called a general election -- WF Ed. Note]. We're going to possibly end up with a similar type of regulation.

WF: The bill also eliminates physical rehabilitation altogether.

FL: Yes, there is also an attack on the right to rehabilitation. The current law provides for three types of rehabilitation with specific programs. Rehabilitation is for workers who have permanent after-effects. There is physical, social and professional rehabilitation.

Physical rehabilitation consists of treatments after the treatment of the injury itself is complete, treatments for permanent consequences of the injury. These are no longer treatments to heal, but to control and relieve pain, to reduce the consequences of a loss of quality of life. The bill simply abolishes physical rehabilitation. In other words, medical treatment, physiotherapy, occupational therapy or even psychotherapy in the case of psychological injuries will only be aimed at recovery or return to work. If a worker has permanent after-effects from his or her injury that affect his or her quality of life, this is no longer important according to the bill. That is the logic. There are also limitations to what can be received in terms of social and vocational rehabilitation. Social rehabilitation concerns rehabilitation measures such as home assistance, or home renovations, while vocational rehabilitation concerns measures such as training for vocational reorientation. The bill now provides for a specific list of measures covered, whereas currently the list is qualified by the word "including," which opens the door to other measures.

For us, these attacks on the rights of injured and sick workers are unacceptable and are deeply disturbing.


1. Hearing impairment caused by noise is one of the occupational diseases specifically named in the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases. Currently, the only requirement to qualify for the presumption for this disease is to have performed "work involving exposure to excessive noise." With the amendments to the Act in Bill 59, it will now be necessary to demonstrate exposure to a threshold of more than 85 decibels for eight hours per day, over a period of at least two years, by means of evidence specified by the regulation.

A new condition is also imposed for the recognition of lead poisoning. The only condition at present is that the person must have worked in a job involving the use, handling or other exposure to lead or its compounds. The bill now adds the condition of having "a blood lead level equal to or greater than 700 g/L (micrograms per litre of blood)."

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum. Photos: UTTAM)

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Farmers' Movement Holds Steady

All-India shutdown, March 26, Amritsar

The farmers' movement in India is deepening and broadening. On March 26 an All-India shutdown took place. On April 5, all the Food Corporation of India godowns (a type of warehouse) were surrounded in 736 districts of India, because officials have been asking to see a copy of land revenue certificates (LRCs) before they will buy the produce. This is yet another way to harass farmers. Youth organized a massive rally in Sangrur, Punjab, where thousands of farmers gathered. Leaders of the farmers also joined. It turned into a report back and summation of the last nine months. The problems which had appeared at each step were discussed and how each was resolved through mass democracy. A frank, open and productive discussion took place.

Shutdown of the Hind terminal continues to March 31

A baba (grandfather/respected elder) said that it was a misfortune for farmers and Punjab to have them divided along party lines. He said, "I was a founding member of the Farmers' Union of Punjab in 1972. But our misfortune was that this union got divided into more than 30 organizations. I thank Modi for creating conditions that bring us all together irrespective of our political or religious affiliations and we have developed Unity in Action against the anti-farmer laws."

A young student leader said, "Our fighting spirit had become rusty. We talked about the fighting spirit of the Gurus, Dulla Bhatti, Banda Bahadur Singh, Bhagat Singh and others, but were not conscious of what plans are being made against people by sweet-talking politicians of the Akali, Congress, Aam Admi Party, CPI(M) and others. It is to the credit of the farmers and their sons and daughters that they got together and made sense of these laws and united all the people. Now it is a life and death battle against those who want to steal our lands. It is an assault by corporations to capture our land, food and everything that we need."

Another baba had everybody in stitches. He asked everyone in the audience to raise their hand if they will transfer their land to their son while living. Nobody raised their hand. Then he said, "If we don't fight, the corporations will take away our land that you are not even willing to give to your son. You will be turned into slaves and beggars."

A young singer expressed the determination of the farmers in a verse:

Jadon Tain Mod Di Ni Kaale Kanoon Diliye
Hik Te Teri Tractor Chahrd Ke Baithange

(Until you repeal the anti-farmer laws,
We will keep tractors on your chest, Oh Delhi)

A young farmer said that he graduated with a law degree, travelled the world visiting relatives and now works on the land with his family. He said we have developed our own vision of a new society Sarbat Da Bhala (Well-Being of All) based on the teachings of our Gurus, Bhagats, Sufis, Ghadari Babas and the experience of world's people. We are quite capable of building our own future. He said there are some self-appointed "leaders" running around telling us that farmers are the "motive force" and they are the "leading force." They say the farmers have to be led by them. But we are our own leaders and are quite competent at solving society's problems. We are fed up with those who want to "lead us." Watch out for such "leaders," he said.

A cavalcade of one of the farmers' legitimate leaders was attacked with gunshots and stones in Rajasthan. Farmers blocked several highways. Four persons connected with BJP have been arrested. Many actions are planned by farmers and other toilers in the coming days. On April 10, KMP highway -- a beltway around Delhi -- will be jammed for 24 hours. On April 13, the founding of the Khalsa as a force against oppression will be celebrated. On the same day, the anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh massacre will be commemorated. On April 14, on the anniversary of the birth of B.R. Ambedkar, the violation of rights and draconian laws by the government will be highlighted on Constitution Day. May Day will be celebrated at the protest sites. In the first week of May, a March on Parliament is being planned by farmers and toilers from across India.

March 26 All-India Shutdown

(Photos: Bku Ekta Urgrahan, C. Singh, M. Punia, S. Malik, R. Schachbush)

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