August 20, 2021 -
Government Dismantles Occupational
Health and Safety Regime
the Rights of Workers to a
Safe Working Environment
• Kevin McLean, Chair of
the Health-Safety-Environment Committee of the Federation of Public
Charette, United Steelworkers Representative
Occupational Health and Safety Regime
and broad opposition from workers, unions and
organizations that defend injured workers, the Quebec government is
proceeding with preparations to pass Bill 59, An Act to
modernize the occupational health and safety regime.
The Commission that is studying Bill 59 resumed its sessions on August
17. It is carrying
out a clause-by-clause study of the bill which the Legault government
says it wants passed when the National Assembly reconvenes on September
workers are intensifying their fight against this anti-worker,
anti-social bill. On August 26, they are organizing a
noon-hour demonstration in front of the National Assembly to demand
that the bill not be passed and other actions will follow.
government is serving narrow private interests by treating
workers' health and safety as a cost to employers and treating workers
themselves as if they are disposable. The government no longer permits
workers' organizations to have a say on laws which affect the workers
thereby putting workers' health and lives in danger. It must not pass!
learn more about Bill 59 click here and here.
My union is the Montreal Transit Union. I am an
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
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
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
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
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
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
in demonstrations. We participated in the 59-hour vigil that started on
May 31, in front of the National Assembly.
visit MNA's offices, January 2021
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
We continue to put pressure. We are
not going to give up. We need a health and safety law that protects all
Vigil against Bill 59 at
Quebec National Assembly, June 1, 2021
The reform brought about by Bill 59 does not help us at all.
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.
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
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
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
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
to have occupational diseases recognized and to obtain compensation.
Many will end up on social assistance.
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
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
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.
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.
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