All posts by Jean Lian

Unions support bill on registry for occupational disease

Bill C-292, an Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (occupational-disease and accident registry), passed its first reading in the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 14.

The amendment to the bill by MP Sheri Benson of Saskatoon-West will require employers to report information about all accidents, occupational diseases and other hazardous occurrences known by the employer to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, who will have to maintain a registry containing all of that information and to make that information available to employees — past, present and potential — for examination.

Benson paid tribute to the late Howard Willems, who had been exposed to asbestos as part of his job as a food inspector for the government in Saskatchewan. Willems’ death led to the establishment of a mandatory asbestos registry in that province. “This bill would help inform and protect workers so that many more can come home safe at the end of their work day,” Benson said in reference to Bill C-292.

Bill Daniels, international vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, First District, said that the introduction of this private member’s bill was long overdue. “For decades, workers have been unknowingly exposed to hazardous substances while on the job, which has led to various health problems and even the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.”

He added that this change would have a positive effect on workers by allowing them access to pertinent information on the various hazards to which they could be exposed at work. “This is something every worker deserves to know.”

Bob Blakely, Canadian operating officer at Canada’s Building Trades Unions, said in a statement dated June 15 that the union was pleased to support the legislation, which it regards as an important component of federal leadership on workplace safety. The bill “is a long time coming and will create accountable partnerships in the workplace,” Blakely noted. “This bill will allow workers to know when and if workplaces are safe or unsafe.”

Canada’s Building Trades Unions look forward to continuing to work with MP Sheri Benson, as well as with provincial governments to pave the way towards a safer work environment for its members, the statement added.

Occupational disease is a disease or condition caused by work or exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. According to information from the federal government’s labour program, an average of slightly fewer than one million occupational injury claims have been reported each year by provincial or territorial workers’ compensation boards from 1996 to 2008. In 2008, there were approximately three occupational fatalities each day of the year and roughly one out of every 13,805 workers covered by provincial or territorial compensation systems died from an occupational injury. Factoring in direct and indirect costs, the total costs of occupational injuries to the Canadian economy is estimated to be more than $19 billion annually.

Two Canadian mining fatalities in Mexico occur within days

Two unrelated mining fatalities involving the operations of Canadian mining companies in Mexico took place within the span of a few days.

On June 20, a fatal incident involving an employee of Starcore International Mines Ltd., headquartered in Vancouver, occurred at the company’s San Martin Mine in Queretaro, Mexico. In a statement dated June 21, president and chief executive officer Robert Eadie expressed regret over the company’s failure to report the death of the worker, who had been an experienced underground miner at the firm’s San Martin Mine. Eadie flew to Mexico upon hearing the fatal incident.

“The safety of our employees is of utmost importance for Starcore, and we will continue to take every measure to eliminate all workplace accidents and ensure the workplace is safe for everyone,” Eadie said.

According to the statement, the incident was an isolated one that occurred during the installation of wall and ceiling ground support in a cut-and-fill stope in the mine’s San Martin area. Starcore is working with the local authorities on completing a final report on their investigation. Operations at the mine outside of this stope continue, and all crews have been fully debriefed on the incident. The plant is operating normally in the meantime, the statement added.

Just two days after the Starcore fatality, Great Panther Silver Limited, based in Vancouver, reported that a contract miner had been killed on June 22 when an isolated rock fell at the Guanajuatito Mine, which is part of the Guanajuato Mine Complex in Mexico. The area where the incident occurred has been closed for investigation, but the rest of the operations remain unaffected.

In a statement dated June 22, Robert Archer, president and chief executive officer of Great Panther Silver Limited, expressed his condolences on behalf of the company, which is continuing with a complete safety review across all its operations that began earlier in the year. The company is assessing the cause of the incident and has reported it to the relevant authorities.

“Any necessary steps to prevent the recurrence of such accidents will be taken immediately,” the statement added.

Shorter daylight hours prompt safety measures for cyclists

TORONTO, Ont. — For those who commute to work or get to subways on bicycles in spite of fall’s colder weather and diminishing daylight hours, their bikes must have proper lighting and reflective gear. Cycle Toronto, in partnership with the Toronto Police Service and Toronto personal-injury law firm McLeish Orlando, will set up along busy cycling commuter routes at dusk on three evenings in October to flag down unlit cyclists and educate them on the importance of staying visible, as well as providing free sets of equipment to ensure safe rides home.

“Cycling is a year-round activity for many people across Toronto,” said Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto. “It gets darker earlier this month and we have got to watch out for one another out there. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, including the cycling community.”

The Ministry of Transportation has recently increased the set fine for improper lighting of a bicycle from $20 to $110. From half an hour before sunset to half an hour after sunrise, cyclists in Ontario must have a front white light and either rear red reflectors or rear red lights on their bicycles. Bicycles also need to be lit when it is dark due to rain, fog, or snow.

“Improving road safety and traffic flow is one of our goals in support of and commitment to safe communities and neighbourhoods,” said Superintendent Gord Jones, Unit Commander of Traffic Services. “Traffic safety is the responsibility of everyone who uses our roadways, and active transportation continues to grow in the city every day. The safety of cyclists and other road users in the city of Toronto is very important to us. We are pleased to be in partnership with our colleagues at Cycle Toronto on this innovative and important campaign.”

Record-low injury rates yield lower premiums

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Starting on Jan. 1, 99 per cent of employers in Newfoundland and Labrador will see their 2016 assessment rates decrease or stay the same. The lower assessment rates coincide with record-low injury rates, according to a statement issued on Oct. 14 by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WorkplaceNL).

The 2016 average assessment rate charged to employers to cover anticipated costs of workplace injuries, return-to-work programs, prevention initiatives and the cost of administering the workers’ compensation system will be reduced by $0.25 to $2.20 per $100 of assessable payroll. The rate reduction is due to the removal of a $0.25 surcharge that employers pay to cover past unfunded liabilities in the workers’ compensation system. A surcharge has been in place since 1993.

At the end of 2014, the injury fund was $1.1 billion and more than 112 per cent funded. This was the first time the funding target of 110 per cent had been exceeded — a major milestone in establishing the long-term stability of the injury fund for employers and workers in the province, the statement noted. Based on the stakeholder-agreed funding policy, the surcharge may now be removed.

“For more than a decade, employers and injured workers have been diligent in their efforts to improve workplace safety in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the injury rate is the lowest it has ever been,” said Ralph Tucker, chair of WorkplaceNL. “This is a credit to the cooperative management of the system by our labour and employer stakeholders. Through these progressive partnerships, we are able to lower assessment rates and ensure injured workers receive fair benefits. More workers are returning home safely to their families, our ultimate goal.”

As well, the Maximum Compensable and Assessable Earnings for injured workers, starting from January 1, will increase to $62,540 — the highest in Atlantic Canada. This increase reflects a 1.5 per cent annual Consumer Price Index adjustment. Injured workers submitting new claims whose pre-injury earnings are at or above $62,540 will be eligible to be compensated at this new limit.

“The Board is committed to continuing its philosophy of using a balanced approached to consider the needs of both injured workers and employers, while also being financially responsible with the injury fund, now and into the future,” Tucker added.

Expansion boosts safety in correctional centre

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — The safety of staff, offenders and the public at Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert Correctional Centre will get a boost with the expansion of 144 new beds.

According to a statement from the provincial government issued on Oct. 9, the new $24 million unit was outlined in the 2012/2013 budget and is expected to create more than 100 new jobs in Prince Albert. The new unit, which is designed to promote safety by incorporating a more modern design, uses the “open concept” model that allows for direct supervision and interaction between corrections workers and offenders. It has been built with four living pods and offers enough capacity to provide video court services for the entire correctional centre.

“The open concept creates a safer environment for corrections staff,” 27-year corrections employee Wes Elder said. “It worked very well when it was introduced to the province at Regina Provincial Correctional Centre, and I have no doubt it will work just as well here in Prince Albert.”

Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell said the provincial government was focused on reducing demand on the criminal justice system. “At the same time, we need to ensure we have adequate space to house the offender population that currently exists in the province. This expansion will help us do just that.”

This announcement follows major capital investments of 60 beds at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Prince Albert in 2013 and the 90-bed expansion to the Saskatoon Correctional Centre in 2009. These were the first additional beds added to the province’s correctional system since the late 1980s.

Campaign results in fewer road accidents

REGINA, Sask. — Safer driving has led to 19 per cent fewer fatalities and 18 per cent fewer injuries in the first year of tougher traffic safety laws in Saskatchewan, according to preliminary numbers from Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) in Regina.

“Early numbers indicate your safe driving has saved 30 lives and prevented more than 1,200 injuries,” Don McMorris, Minister responsible for SGI, said in a statement issued on Oct. 14.

The numbers covered the period from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Changes to traffic law in Saskatchewan took effect on June 27, 2014 as a result of recommendations made by the all-party Special Committee on Traffic Safety.

The Saskatchewan Road Safety Challenge, a province-wide multimedia awareness campaign with the slogan, “We can drive better,” was launched in May 2014 to complement changes to traffic safety law. At the time, traffic fatalities and injuries in the province were trending upward, and government took action to reverse the trend.

Based on the four-year average from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2014, 158 people on average were killed and nearly 6,900 people were injured in traffic collisions each year in the province prior to implementation of the new traffic laws.

“It is very encouraging to see fewer fatalities and injuries, but we all need to maintain safe driving habits and learn new ones, and ongoing education, awareness and enforcement will help,” McMorris said. “We can drive better and make our roads safer for everyone. At the end of the day, we all want to make it to our destination or home to our families, safe and sound.”

Food retailer discriminated against shopper: ruling

An independent human-rights board of inquiry has determined that a woman who was accused of being a repeat shoplifter by staff of food retailer Sobeys in Tantallon, N.S. was actually a victim of discrimination.

On May 26, 2009, Andrella David was stopped at a grocery-store checkout by a Sobeys employee, who accused her of being a “known shoplifter in the store,” according to a statement by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) issued on Oct. 9. David was told that the store’s surveillance footage had captured previous instances of her shoplifting, that she was being watched and that if it happened again, they would press charges. There was no indication that David had attempted to shoplift.

David demanded to see the videotape in an attempt to prove that she was not the same person who had been caught shoplifting in the surveillance footage. David was taken to an office with surveillance equipment as staff tried to locate the videotape, which was believed to have captured David committing theft before May 2009. David eventually left the store and later tried to rectify the situation with Sobeys’ senior management, which accepted the allegations made by its employee over David’s word. David filed a complaint with NSHRC, alleging that Sobeys had discriminated against her when it had falsely accused her of stealing from the store.

Board chair Marion Hill’s written decision determined that David had been discriminated against on the basis of her race and/or colour and perceived source of income, both of which are protected under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. “During the course of the evidence provided in this proceeding, it was clear that race played a role related to the Complainant’s [David] adverse treatment,” Hill wrote. “Ms. Barnhill [the Sobeys employee] gave evidence that, all things being equal, had the Complainant been white, she would never have been approached.”

Hill found that colour and race had been important factors in the decision to confront David and that “racial profiling” had been a factor in the treatment of David. The decision described how the Sobeys staff member had relied heavily on poor-quality video in her identification of David. “The most distinguishing feature that could be positively identified from the pictures and the video evidence was the fact that the alleged shoplifter was a black woman with dark hair,” Hill wrote.

While Hill accepted the argument that shoplifting, which results in serious financial loss, was a concern for Sobeys, “the respondent’s continuous identification of the complainant as a known shoplifter is unjustified.”

Hill has reserved decision on remedy; those arguments will be heard on Oct. 27 and 28.

Flu vaccines available in two provinces

Both Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are gearing up for the flu season by encouraging their respective residents to take the flu shot.

According to a statement from the Saskatchewan government, the publicly funded influenza (flu) vaccine has been available since Oct. 19. For the first time in Saskatchewan, pharmacists cans provide free flu vaccinations this year as part of the province’s influenza immunization program. Approximately 200 of the 360 community pharmacies in the province plan to participate.

“We are pleased pharmacists will offer this important service,” Health Minister Dustin Duncan said. “This additional option means increased access, choice and convenience for our residents.”

As in previous years, the free vaccine will be offered through public health clinics across the province and some physician and nurse practitioner offices, the statement added.

In Nova Scotia, the provincial government is urging high-risk groups to get a flu shot as soon as possible. “Vaccination is the safest and most effective way to protect yourself and loved ones from the flu,” said Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine.

Workers or people who live with or care for people in high-risk groups include nurses, paramedics, doctors and caregivers. Seniors, children from six months to five years of age, Aboriginal people, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes also belong to the high-risk group that is strongly encouraged to get flu shots. Seasonal flu vaccine is available from most pharmacies, family doctors, family-practice nurses, nurse practitioners, many workplaces and through clinics offered by some public health offices.

“Last year, 40 per cent of Nova Scotians got a flu shot, and we hope to see more this year,” said Dr. Frank Atherton, Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer of health. “Our publicly funded immunization program is an important part of the government’s commitment to promote health and prevent illness.”

The province is providing the quadrivalent vaccine recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. The vaccine contains two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains.

Proper hygiene, such as hand washing and covering noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing, is also important to prevent the spread of influenza and many other infections. People with flu symptoms should stay home and minimize close contact with others, the Saskatchewan government statement advises. Flu symptoms often include a sudden high fever, headache, general aches and pains, fatigue and weakness, a runny, stuffy nose, sneezing and sore throat. It can lead to more severe illness, such as pneumonia, or even death.

Shoddy data used in TFWP approval process, says labour federation

The wage data used by Alberta government officials to determine which Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) applications to approve are deeply flawed, according to documents uncovered by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).

According to a statement issued on Oct. 8 by the AFL in Edmonton, businesses seeking approval to hire workers through the TFWP must first prove that they are paying wages that are appropriate to their local labour market. The documents listing prevailing wage rates in regions across the country in 11 different occupations from 2009 to 2014 — recently obtained and verified by the AFL under a Freedom of Information request — show that permits were issued based on data that were sometimes eight years out of date from diverse and non-comparable data sources.

“The decision to let a business bring in a temporary foreign worker is a decision to let them pass over any Canadian who might want that job. It is a decision that can harm careers, can hurt families and can wreck lives,” AFL secretary treasurer and acting president Siobhán Vipond said. “If you are making a decision with those kinds of real-world consequences, you need to base your decision on good information. It is clear from these documents that approvals have been made on badly outdated information at best and complete nonsense at worst.”

According to government regulations, a business must be approved for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) or Labour Market Opinion (LMO) before it is allowed to hire through the TFWP. These assessments are meant to ensure that businesses hire qualified Canadian workers. “When businesses are allowed to make an end run around the labour market, it undermines the rights of all workers,” Vipond said.

The wage documents indicate that some LMIAs and LMOs were issued based on information from Labour Force Surveys from 2010 to 2012, while others were based on Employment Insurance numbers in 2006. In some instances, the 2001 census was cited as the source of the data. In many cases, no data source was cited. “These are decisions made from 2009 to 2014, so I have no clue why they thought 2001 census data is still relevant,” Vipond noted.

The 11 National Occupation Codes that the AFL examined were as follows: machinists and machining and tooling inspectors; tool and die makers; electricians (except industrial and power systems); industrial electricians; power-system electricians; plumbers; steamfitters, pipefitters and sprinkler-system installers; gas fitters; ironworkers; welders and related machine operators; and carpenters.