NDP sounding alarm that Pallister government may weaken protection for workers

Winnipeg Free Press - Nick Martin

The NDP is raising fears the Pallister government could weaken protection for workers over air quality and exposure to toxic chemicals. Labour critic Tom Lindsey said Wednesday that Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Cliff Cullen has ordered a review of workplace safety and health regulations by June 30.

Flin Flon MLA and NDP Labour critic Tom Lindsey says Cullen wants to weaken occupational exposure limits in workplaces.

Lindsey told the house Cullen wants his advisory council on workplace health and safety to give the highest priority to the employer’s costs. Cullen wants weakening of occupational exposure limits (OEL) in workplaces, Lindsey charged.

"Guaranteeing the health and safety of workers must be the top priority of government and employers," Lindsey said.

That’s exactly why he’s having the regulations reviewed, Cullen said. "We believe there was a flawed process under the previous (NDP) government," the minister said.

"Shameful!" said Lindsey. "How about keeping workers alive? "

OELs protect workers from short and long-term" health problems, Lindsey said. "His mandate changed from protecting the health of workers to protecting the economic health of employers."

Rather than answering directly, Cullen said the NDP needs to figure out its position on trade policy.

Workers are very concerned, Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said Wednesday.

"We are very alarmed that the minister has ordered that the current process for protecting workers from chemicals and other hazards should be weakened," Rebeck said.

"We are strongly supportive of Manitoba’s existing automatic adoption rule, which requires employers to ensure that workplaces stay up to date with the latest science and recommendations from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. When the experts tell us that workers will be harmed if they are exposed to chemicals and other hazards, we need to listen and ensure that protections are put in place without delay.

"When we know something is hazardous, it is inexcusable, and potentially criminal, to not take protective action," Rebeck said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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