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The Quiet OHS & WCB Review: Why Albertans Should be Concerned

This summer, in the midst of a pandemic, the UCP government is quietly coming after your workplace health and safety rights and protections. This after they have just rammed through Bill 32, a law rolling back your pay and workplace rights

The government is currently reviewing both the Occupational Health and Safety and the Workers’ Compensation Acts. 

These consultations are already under way, but the government is not widely advertising them, instead they are ‘selectively consulting’. All while providing only one month for these reviews to be completed. 

It goes without saying that completing a one-month consultation on both the Occupational Health and Safety and the Workers’ Compensation system in the middle of a global health pandemic, in the middle of summer, could barely be considered meaningful consultation.

These are rushed reviews with a clear agenda; rolling back workers’ health and safety rights and protections in Alberta.

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)

There is no disputing that Alberta needs effective legislation, policies and mechanisms that make work safer. Unfortunately, Alberta’s conservative governments have long been overly concerned with appearing business friendly, at the detriment to health and safety rights and protections for workers. The focus of our Occupational Health and Safety Act should be doing all that is needed to ensure safe workplaces for Albertans. This would mean consulting in good faith with all Albertans and stakeholders who are involved with creating safe workplaces. 

Yet, instead of meaningful consultation with stakeholders, the UCP government appears to see the Occupational Health and Safety Review as a chance to weaken worker involvement in workplace safety, to allow employers an out for health and safety to save money, to reduce reporting requirements for workplace incidents, and most concerningly, to limit a worker’s right to refuse unsafe work. All during an ongoing pandemic. 

For the Occupational Health and Safety Review, the UCP government is looking at:

  • Changing the requirements around workplace health and safety committees once again and potentially only requiring them on worksites they decide are dangerous. This is similar to the previous legislation and resulted in only 24 worksites in Alberta having these committees despite it being the norm in other provinces.
  • Limiting the ability for workers to refuse unsafe work. During a pandemic.
  • Looking to make occupational health and safety more flexible for employers and offer fewer supports for workers to be involved and stay safe.
  • Changing the reporting requirements for potential serious incidents – which are incidents that may have resulted in a worker death or serious injury with slightly different circumstances. Research shows reporting on these incidents and addressing the issues before a serious injury occurs keeps workers safe.
  • Adding a due diligence clause into our workers health and safety act that allows employers to not implement safety measures if they think it costs too much money or time.

Workers Compensation (WCB)

It is also important to note that a balanced and well-functioning workers compensation system often relies on meaningful stakeholder involvement in the development of policies and legislation.

Instead of meaningful consultation with stakeholders, the UCP government appears to see the Workers Compensation Review as a chance to roll back the amount of money a worker can receive, allow employers to end health benefits for injured workers, to weaken presumptive coverage for workplace illness or injuries, and to dip into the workers’ accident fund to give money to employers. 

During the Workers Compensation Review, the UCP government is looking at:

  • Lowering the maximum amount of insurable earnings for workers – this means that high earning workers who are injured would not receive as much money.
  • Changing the cost of living adjustments for injured workers. This would mean that injured workers fall behind as inflation rises.
  • Getting rid of the requirement for employers to keep workers on health benefits when they are injured. Private health benefits provided through work often cover important medication and dental procedures that are outside of the WCB.
  • Cutting interim relief benefits – this provides both workers and employers financial benefits while they are waiting for an appeal decision.
  • Cutting the requirement for employers to return injured workers back to work when they are ready.
  • Returning surplus money from WCB back to employers instead of investing it in making workplaces safer and helping employers return workers back to work after an injury.
  • Taking away a worker’s choice when it comes to who will be their physician for medical exams.
  • Giving liability coverage from civil lawsuits for directors of corporations without them having to pay WCB premiums for the insurance.

Concerned? Raise your voice. Tell the UCP government you oppose any rollback of workplace health and safety rights. Take the government’s online consultation survey now.