Halifax casino worker awarded EI in second-hand smoke case

Nova Scotia government draws fire for firm stance on allowing smoking in casinos, groups want smoking banned in all workplaces

A Halifax woman who quit her job at a casino because of second-hand smoke has been awarded Employment Insurance benefits.

Andrea Skinner, who quit her job at the casino in Halifax late last year, was rewarded benefits by a federal Employment Insurance board of referees. It ruled that the medical evidence supports the claim that second-hand smoke is a hazard.

“There is sufficient evidence to substantiate the hazards of second-hand smoke in the workplace,” Lucien Paul Hebert, chairman of the panel that looked into her claim, wrote in the report.

The Nova Scotia cities of Sydney and Halifax have passed comprehensive anti-smoking bylaws, but the provincial government said it would exempt the casinos in those municipalities from the regulations.

Skinner, 30, said the board’s decision is a vindication for her and others who want to work in a smoke-free environment.

“The casino could be a perfectly safe workplace if it was smoke-free,” she told the Halifax Daily News. “There’s a lot of smoke, I can tell you from experience. The smoke that hangs in the place is very thick, and there’s just no getting away from it.”

The case could be precedent-setting, but Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm told the CBC that he’s not worried because he believes there are lots of smokers willing to work at the casino.

Hamm said the decision won’t stop the government from pushing ahead with the exemption for casinos.

“I’m always concerned about the environments workers are working in, and we’ll try to provide the maximum amount of worker protection,” said Hamm. “On the other hand, we’re dealing with a very, very unusual case because we have a very, very unusual contract down at the casino, one that seems to protect the casino far more than it protects anyone else.”

Outrage at the province

Maureen MacDonald, the provincial NDP’s health critic, said the government has an obligation to protect all workers — including those in casinos — and should abandon its plan to shield the casinos from municipal bylaws.

Neil Collishaw, research director at Ottawa-based Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said he is “shocked and appalled” by the actions of the Nova Scotia government in this case, and the policy on casinos, which he called reprehensible.

Second-hand smoke is a known danger, it’s been proven beyond a doubt that its hazardous to workers, and the government needs to step up and protect workers in every single workplace, he said.

“Andrea Skinner quit her job because she was worried, quite rightly, about the long-term consequences of being in that environment,” said Collishaw. “And now she’s able to collect EI benefits, which is good. But, frankly, EI is a poor substitute for having a job and that’s what she needs.”

Collishaw said it’s long overdue for Canada to have a consistent and coherent approach to smoking in the workplace. All levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — need to adjust rules and regulations to ensure every worker is protected from the effects of second-hand smoke.

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