September 24, 2021 - No. 87

Quebec Government Poised to Dismantle Occupational
Health and Safety Regime

Workers and Their Unions Demand Withdrawal of Anti-Worker
Anti-Social Bill 59

Interview - Julie Hébert, Health, Safety and Environment Coordinator,
Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers

Repeal Ontario's Bill 124! Increase Funding for Health Care!
Arbitration Decision in Nurses' Bargaining Will Deepen Crisis of Recruitment and Retention

Quebec Government Poised to Dismantle Occupational
Health and Safety Regime

Workers and Their Unions Demand Withdrawal of Anti-Worker Anti-Social Bill 59

Action against Bill 59 at National Assembly, August 26, 2021

Despite strong opposition from workers, their unions and injured workers' organizations, the Quebec government is preparing to pass Bill 59, An Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime, as the Quebec National Assembly committee charged with clause by clause study of the legislation has completed its work. The bill openly treats workers' health and safety as a cost that must be reduced for those who buy workers' capacity to work, including a full-scale attack on treatments of injuries, rehabilitation and compensation. It also excludes the voice of workers from decision-making about prevention in the workplace.

With great hypocrisy, Labour Minister Jean Boulet stated in committee that granting all decision-making power to employers is intended to strengthen the accountability of employers, since they are ultimately the ones who are responsible for ensuring the necessary prevention programs in workplaces! By attacking workers' medical treatment and compensation, the bill affirms that workers are disposable as far as the narrow private interests that control the economy are concerned.  Construction workers have also pointed out that the attacks on prevention come at a time when a labour shortage is being invoked to open up job sites en masse to a workforce that more and more is not being given the necessary training to ensure their safety. Workers who leave the industry because of the poor working conditions, including lack of safety, can easily be replaced by workers who lack proper training and this never ends. Treating workers as disposable increases the dangers for all workers.

On September 21, the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) voted unanimously at its executive meeting to call for the withdrawal of Bill 59. The QFL is the largest central labour organization in Quebec and represents the majority of industrial workers in Quebec, while also being widely represented in the public sector. On its board sit representatives of a large number of affiliated unions, including United Steelworkers, FTQ-Construction, Unifor, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Public Service Alliance of Canada, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and many others. The Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (CSD) is also calling for the rejection of Bill 59. The Confederation of National Trade unions (CSN) and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec also denounce Bill 59 as unacceptable.

Workers are considering what actions to take to ensure that Bill 59 does not pass.

(Photos: CUPE, UTTAM)

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Workers' Forum: What are the main changes that Bill 59 brings to the occupational health, safety and prevention regime?

Julie Hébert: At the moment, we have a regime that includes four prevention mechanisms. In the original 1979 law, it was foreseen that each workplace would have a health and safety committee, one or more prevention representatives, a prevention program and a health program. Over time, for various reasons, these mechanisms have only been applied to 12 per cent of workplaces. The sectors of the economy were separated into six different workplace categories. Only in two of them, known as sectors one and two, were all of these prevention mechanisms applied.[1] What the Steelworkers and the entire labour movement have been calling for is the extension of these prevention mechanisms to all workplaces, so that prevention could be carried out everywhere equally. Time has shown that these mechanisms work well in the workplaces where they were applied, certainly in those represented by the Steelworkers.

But that is not what Bill 59 does.

The bill eliminates the health program in the workplace. This was a program in which there was intervention from Public Health and a physician responsible for health care in the facility. That no longer exists.

The second point is the prevention program that was submitted to the Health and Safety Committee for approval and was also developed with Public Health and the physician in charge. This program is now the sole responsibility of the employer. There is no longer joint approval by the health and safety committee.

Thirdly, the health and safety committees lose their ability to act because this is diluted by the provision that an employer can create a single health and safety committee for several establishments. The bill is not clear on this subject, as it uses the criterion of the nature of the employer's activities. For example, a mining company that has different facilities for refining, casting and other activities could say that the nature of all these activities is the same and therefore have a single health and safety committee for several establishments. This is because the criterion in the bill is not clear.

The last thing, which is probably the most serious, is that it takes away prevention representatives' ability to act. In the original law, it was the prevention representatives who were responsible for contact with the workers. In the present law, in groups one and two, it is the prevention representatives who are responsible for what is referred to as work on the shop floor, of being in contact with the workers, representing them, helping them exercise their rights. This is extremely important work that is done every day in Quebec, that is, in the 12 per cent of workplaces where this prevention representative mechanism presently applies. Apart from the issue of multi-establishments, the bill removes all the minimums that were provided for, whether it be the frequency of health and safety committee meetings or the minimum number of hours that prevention representatives are released from work to carry out these duties. At the moment there are minimums, or a scale, so that for a given number of workers, prevention representatives are mandated so many hours of release, and a minimum of one, two or three prevention representatives are mandated based on the number of workers, etc. This no longer exists. This will now be determined through an agreement between the parties. The unions will have to come to an agreement with the employer to negotiate release time for their prevention representatives. We will end up having to negotiate workplace prevention.

What should have been done is to take what presently applies in the 12 per cent of workplaces and extend it to all workers. Instead, this has all been diluted, in particular by removing the minimums. This will be left to negotiation between the parties. If there is no agreement, there will be legal recourse, leaving it up to the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board(CNESST ) to decide on the issue. We remember that mines were real killers for workers in the 1950s and 1960s. The mining unions will now have to go to court or to the Administrative Labour Tribunal to make their case as to why so many prevention representatives and so many release hours are needed. This is judicialization of the process. This will probably become one more issue that will have to be negotiated at the bargaining table, just like wage increases or working conditions.

As well, currently a contaminant register is submitted to the joint health and safety committee. From now on, the employer will have sole control over this. The register will no longer be submitted to the health and safety committee. Workers will no longer know what they are exposed to in their own workplace. I am a lawyer by training and when I am involved in occupational disease cases with unions, if the prevention representative is able to provide me with all the minutes of the health and safety committee and tell me that for x amount of time such and such a contaminant has been used in our plant, we were exposed, it is dangerous, we have made representations to the employer,  -- all of this is evidence that we need to have work-related diseases recognized that we will now lose. When talking about health and prevention programs, I mentioned that there is a physician responsible for health services at the workplace. Currently, this physician is appointed by the health and safety committee. Now they will be appointed by the employer.

WF: Do you want to add anything in conclusion?

JH: The most deplorable aspect of Bill 59 is the loss of contact with the workers on the floor. Nobody knows the situation better than the prevention representatives. Nobody knows the plants better. They are there day after day and are in the best position to help the workers. Also, the parity provisions in the 1979 law are being eliminated. Full power is given to the employer and we firmly denounce this.


1. The priority groups one and two in the law where the four prevention mechanisms apply are:


1. Construction and public works;

2. Chemical industry;

3. Forestry and sawmills;

4. Mining, quarrying and oil wells;

5. Metal product manufacturing.


6. Wood industry (without sawmill);

7. Rubber and plastic products industry;

8. Transportation equipment manufacturing;

9. Primary metal processing;

10. Non-metallic mineral product manufacturing.

Although the construction sector is included in these groups, the provisions of the law regarding the prevention mechanisms have never been enacted for construction.

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

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Repeal Ontario's Bill 124! Increase Funding for Health Care!

Arbitration Decision in Nurses' Bargaining Will Deepen Crisis of Recruitment and Retention

Ontario nurses are fighting for the repeal of Bill 124, the Ford government's anti-worker legislation that caps compensation increases to one per cent per year over three years for most public sector workers.

On September 20 nurses received the decision of an arbitration board on the terms of the collective agreement between their union, the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) and the Ontario Hospital Association. Health care workers in Ontario are prohibited by law from striking and when negotiations fail disputes are taken to a three-person interest arbitration board, a panel consisting of one member chosen by the union, one by the employers and a mutually-agreed upon chair.

The arbitration decision denied all the union's proposals for increases in wages and working conditions that are necessary to solve the problem of retention and recruitment of nurses, a problem that is now more serious than ever. In his decision the Chair cited the Ford government's anti-worker Bill 124 as the reason for rejecting ONA's proposals on compensation. The union's member of the panel dissented and the employers' member dissented in part with the decision of the chair.

Proposals from ONA dealt mainly with improvements in health and safety provisions including timely and adequate provision of PPE based on the precautionary principle, and increases in compensation for nurses that are essential both for the well-being of nurses who are working now but also to solve the crisis of recruitment of new nurses.

Nurses and all health care workers in Ontario are waging a determined fight for the repeal of Bill 124 which is being used by employers and the government to cut wages when inflation is taken into account. In their submission to the arbitration board ONA forcefully argued that the crisis in staffing which existed before the pandemic and has become unbearable now, requires immediate and significant government investment in recruitment and improvements needed to retain workers. They also pointed out that the legislation exempts certain professions that are male-dominated like firefighters and police, thus increasing the already existing discrimination against women, a possible breach of the Human Rights Code.

The union's press release of September 20 quotes ONA president Vicki McKenna on the situation of the 60,000 nurses affected by the decision: "Our members have continued to show up and hold the front lines through the worst health crisis in more than a century. In many cases, they have not been provided with sufficient personal protective equipment, have feared for their lives and those of their families, and many have incurred extra out-of-pocket living expenses to move away from their families to protect them. This government has taken away their rights and enabled their employers to send them to other facilities without their agreement, have been denied time off and have been witness to horrors the public cannot imagine as the pandemic raced through the province. We could not even negotiate improved mental health benefits because the costs are more than allowable under the legislation."

The chairperson of the arbitration board stated in his decision that "Bill 124... limits to a very significant degree what it is even possible for this board to consider in this round," essentially that the board's hands are tied, not even permitted to inquire into or remedy a breach of the Human Rights Code. As well, he notes that "Bill 124 provides the government with a number of oversight and enforcement mechanisms including the ability to invalidate an interest arbitration award," so if the board were to defy the restrictions imposed by Bill 124 their decision would be overturned.

Over 40 unions have launched a Charter Challenge to Bill 124 which may well result in its being declared unconstitutional. In the meantime, as that wends its way through the courts and the staffing crisis deepens, employers cry poor, complaining about underfunding but content to put the burden for that on the workers, with Bill 124 as their shield.

The government of Ontario has abandoned its responsibility to ensure that the health care needs of the people are met. Decades of neo-liberal anti-social cuts, privatization and restructuring have left the health care system inadequately funded at the best of times, completely overwhelmed with the added burden of COVID-19. This burden has fallen on the shoulders of the workers who have reached their limit and need relief and support to be able to do their jobs. Anyone can see that what is needed is immediate increased funding to improve the conditions of those already working and to train and hire the thousands of new workers that are needed, providing the current workforce and new hires with working conditions that are humane, safe and dignified.

(Photos: ONA)

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