The first in a series of blogs on workplace health and safety in Alberta.
Alberta workers are known for their hard work and their attention to workplace safety. Many Alberta businesses are also well known for their proactive safety measures. In fact, some have won international awards for their commitment to occupational health and safety. This is true even though many industries in Alberta have a history of being unsafe, especially agriculture, construction, and oil and gas. Even facing these challenges, the vast majority of the time, workers and employers step up to make work as safe as possible so that everyone makes it home after their shifts.
This begs the question of what the UCP is doing by introducing legislation, Bill 47, the so called Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, which hollows out basically every major component of a good workplace health and safety system and also restricts access for injured workers to recover and start working again?
Watering down of Workplace Health and Safety Rights
In terms of workplace health and safety, the UCP changes represent a giant step backwards for the health and safety of all workers in Alberta. These changes reduce many of the processes designed to keep workers safe, eliminate many oversight mechanisms and make a mockery of worker participation in the occupational health and safety. For example, the UCP are severely limiting the ability for Alberta workers to refuse unsafe work, and putting even more restrictions on some front-line workers (during a global health pandemic).
Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees
Other changes include some to the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees that severely restrict workers ability to participate and help make their workplaces safer, specifically to oil and gas and construction worksites. There are many other changes that affect not only the health and safety of workers but also the health and safety of the public. For example, the UCP have introduced a secretive way for employers to be left out of certain parts of the workplace safety legislation without any public accountability.
Attacks on Workers Compensation
For the Workers Compensation changes, what we see is legislation that restricts workers ability to be compensated when they are injured at work, and changes that make it easier for workers to be kicked off any benefits through the WCB system. The UCP are reintroducing a cap on benefits, along with a percentage limit of replacement income within the cap, and they eliminated the requirement for WCB financial benefits to keep up with inflation in Alberta.
Saving money on the backs of injured workers
The UCP is also making changes that help a minority of employers in Alberta save money on the backs of injured workers, such as no longer requiring that employers reinstate injured workers once they are ready to return to work.
Why is this needed?
Good employers and hard-working Albertans do not need this UCP legislation, and they especially do not need it during a global health pandemic when workplace health and safety has become even more important for workers and the general public.
The right to refuse has been crucial for workers to ensure a safe workplace during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Attacking a worker’s right to refuse unsafe work is unconscionable at any time, but doing so during the ongoing pandemic is downright dangerous.
More to come…
Bill 47 is a large omnibus piece of legislation. Over the coming days we will dig more in to what the bill contains, including looking at the watering down of the three crucial workplace health and safety rights (the right to know, participate and refuse) and attacks on the Workers Compensation system.