Government union concerned about right to refuse unsafe work

PSAC claims bill undermines rights of federally regulated workers

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) will be asking the Senate National Finance Committee to reject a part of the federal government’s omnibus budget bill that it charges will “seriously undermine” the right of federal workers to refuse dangerous work.

Part 21 of Bill C-9 introduces amendments to Part II of the Canada Labour Code. Under the code, the federal government is responsible for protecting the health and safety of more than one million workers, including workers in the airline and trucking industries, the federal government and Crown corporations.

The union’s concern

PSAC said the proposed amendments deal specifically with the process for workers to appeal situations where a safety officer has ruled there was no danger in a work refusal case or in those cases where a safety officer has issued a direction to an employer to correct a dangerous condition.

“The amendments effectively allow the government to eliminate any semblance of an impartial and independent appeals system,” PSAC said in a press release.

It went on to say notices of appeal would now have to be filed with the Minister who would also have the power to appoint any “qualified” person as an appeals officer. The scope of what the appeals officer can examine would be limited. Decisions would have to be issued within 90 days, which could preclude the ability to bring expert evidence and testimony to the appeal process.

The short time frame would also mean that the parties would not receive full reasons for the officer's decision, denying workers their fundamental right to effectively judicially review an officer's decision, the union said.

“It’s hard to see how a process controlled by the government, which will often be the plaintive and which has frequently been held accountable before the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada in its capacity as an employer, will be fair,” said PSAC.

PSAC national president John Gordon said the government has been cutting the number of safety inspectors, and he claims the rate of disabling injuries in federally regulated workplaces is on the rise.

The union’s proposal

PSAC has recommended a more independent appeals process, based on the results of a tri-partite Legislative Review Committee established to review Part II of the Canada Labour Code in 1993.

Changes to the appeals process recommended by the committee, in the final report of the committee dated April 1995, and agreed to by labour, management and government at the time, would establish a two-level appeal process that would ensure the independence of the process by involving the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

The union is appearing before the Senate National Finance Committee on July 6 to make its case.

Latest stories