September 10, 2021 - No. 81
Quebec Government's Attempt to Dismantle
Occupational Health and Safety Regime
Bill 59 Must Be Withdrawn! Defend the Right of Workers to Safe and Healthy Working Conditions!
• Félix Lapan, Union des travailleuses et travailleurs accidentés ou malades
• Cédric Joly, Prevention
Representative, United Steelworkers, Local 7493, Rio Tinto Fer et
Titane, Poudres Métalliques in Sorel-Tracy
Quebec Government's Attempt to Dismantle
Occupational Health and Safety Regime
Despite unanimous opposition from workers,
their unions and organizations that defend injured workers, the Quebec
government is pushing ahead, ramping up its preparations to pass Bill
59, An Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime, in the fall session of the National Assembly.
Commission of the National Assembly that is studying Bill 59 clause by
clause has now gone through all the changes that the Bill makes to
Quebec's Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases. It amends provision in the law that deal with treatment, rehabilitation and compensation for workers who are injured on
the job or suffer from job-related illnesses. The Commission is now reviewing Bill 59's amendments to the Act respecting occupational health and safety, the legislation that deals with prevention.
Organizations that defend injured workers state clearly that the
changes that were made by the Commission in the course of the study do
not change the fact that Bill 59 is a major attack on workers' rights
whose official aim remains to "save" $4 billion for employers over the
next 10 years on the backs of injured and sick workers.
Labour Minister Boulet's statement to the Commission that its work
expresses a spirit of harmony shows how the current political process
is disconnected from the strivings of the working people to affirm
their rights and the rights of all and from their actual living and
working conditions. Bill 59 further entrenches the outlook of the
government and the rich that workers are disposable, forcing injured
and sick workers to fend for themselves and eliminating the voice of
workers and the role of workers' organizations in determining what
constitutes health and safety at work.
Workers' Forum fully supports workers' demand that Bill 59 be
withdrawn and that workers must have the decisive say in ensuring that
their working conditions are healthy and safe.
As far as the study of the bill is concerned, the entire section of the Act respecting industrial accidents
and occupational diseases is essentially complete, except for minor provisions that have been put aside for the moment.
We now have the full picture of all the reductions in workers'
entitlement to treatments and rehabilitation. For us, this confirms
that Bill 59 is a huge step backwards in terms of workers' rights. The
government has withdrawn certain provisions of the legislation, but it
is still a disaster in term of treatment for work-related injuries. It
more difficult than ever to access paid treatment and rehabilitation
for work-related injuries.
For example, there are huge reductions in medical assistance to
injured workers, which is fundamental to workers' recovery. Workers
will be denied access to treatments, medication and devices like
orthotics and prosthetics. The first objective of the law is supposed
to be to ensure treatment and rehabilitation of workers' injuries.
Under the current legislation workers are entitled to all the
medical assistance that their condition requires, as prescribed by the
worker's treating physician, without limits. The Labour Standards, Pay
Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) can challenge the
treatments prescribed by the physician if they consider them too
expensive, but except in the case of a successful challenge, workers
are entitled to whatever is prescribed by their doctor, at no cost.
This is a principle that was established in 1985, that the opinion of
the attending physician prevails.
Bill 59 gives the CNESST new and amazing regulatory powers. It is
given the power to determine what will or will not be payable to the
victim of an injury. It is given the power to set limits on the number
of treatments, the amount payable for an injury, etc. This change
alone, the denial of treatment to workers, would result in hundreds of
millions of dollars in savings for employers.
Another example is that the bill removes the entitlement to
retroactive income replacement benefits. If a worker is injured on, for
instance, January 1 and is unable to work, and files his claim on
February 1, for whatever reason (he might have been in a coma), he is
not entitled to compensation for the period between the injury and the
date he filed the claim. Also, consider the case of a worker who has a
condition that prevents him from working, for example, numbness in his
fingers, and is off work while his condition is investigated. After
four months he is diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and files his
claim. He will receive no compensation for the entire four months
that he was unable to work and awaiting a diagnosis. There is no
retroactivity to the income replacement benefit.
These are just two examples. There are many others.
This bill must not pass. If it passes, it will be a great loss of
rights for injured workers. There are more than 100,000 occupational
injuries every year in Quebec. These changes would mean a huge loss to
workers and a gift to employers because the regime is 100 per cent
employer-financed. It is employer-financed in exchange for workers not
being able to sue employers in civil court if they are injured at work.
We will fight this retrogression to the end.
Bill 59 treats the health and safety of Quebec workers as a commodity
to be sold at the lowest price to employers. For example, I can tell
you about the situation in my plant. I am released from my job to do
health and safety work full-time. I sit on the plant's joint health and
safety committee which has three union
members and three employer representatives. We already have to work
hard to make gains in health and safety at the plant. Now, with Bill
59, the time that a representative like myself will be released to do
this work will be drastically reduced, unless it is written into the
collective agreement. This bill would give employers carte blanche to
make these decisions without any recourse. There would no longer be any
joint decision on any aspect, on the plant's prevention program, on the
choice of the doctor in charge, on the health program. You can say what
you want, but with Bill 59 it is the employer who has the
decision-making power in almost all matters. With this bill there will
longer be any equilibrium or negotiation on health and safety matters.
if the multi-establishment provision in the law is adopted, it would be
possible for Rio Tinto Fer et Titane, which has three establishments,
including one very far from us in Havre Saint-Pierre, to have only one
prevention representative for all three establishments. How could a
representative serve the members effectively? How could
he respond adequately to their needs, understand the conditions in
their plant? The representative must be close to his members.
Once again, it is presented as a cost for the employers. According
to them, protecting the health and safety of workers is too expensive.
This will be less expensive for the employers. But as far as we are
concerned you cannot put a price on a worker's life. The government is
asking the workers to make concessions -- the bill is all about
concessions. They are doing this even though the CNESST has never had
more funds. The government is demanding concessions under these
conditions, so just imagine what their demands would be if the CNESST coffers were not so full.
In my plant, where there are only about 200 workers, I currently
have a binder full of files on workers who were injured and are
either on temporary assignment or off work. Work-related injuries
happen all the time. Sometimes a worker could be off for three years,
sometimes three weeks. Not a week goes by that I don't fill out some
paperwork for the CNESST, either for a follow-up or for a new claim. As
far as injuries are concerned, there are a lot of back injuries, hand
injuries, shoulder injuries. These are the problems that come up
frequently. As for occupational diseases, we have a lot of cases of
occupational deafness, and that is one of the targets of the bill. In
we have very high noise levels. The current law is a minimum and we are
trying to make gains through the representations we make on behalf of
workers. Bill 59 would increase the threshold for the recognition of
occupational deafness and deprive workers of compensation.
I could give many other examples.
It is clear that we cannot let this bill pass. There is always a
need for balance in the workplace. Employers are getting richer and
richer. Even when we have a collective agreement, they use more and
more means to challenge everything we do, so as to get even richer.
What we have is our union solidarity. We have managed to work together
to help our people who are on strike or locked out. With Bill 59, all
the union locals and all the workers in Quebec including workers who
are not unionized, must rally together and tell the government that you
cannot put a price on the health and safety of workers. All Quebec
workers will suffer if this bill is passed. We must mobilize, we must
stand up against this. In health and safety, I don't understand what
would justify any retrogression. We should be moving forward. No one
should lose their life at work. Enough people have already given up
their lives. We need to move forward and make sure that everyone comes
back from work safe and healthy.
(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)
ISSUES | HOME