Conservative rollbacks to workplace safety rights defeated

September 6, 2013

Last night, Brian Pallister’s Conservatives used a Manitoba legislative committee hearing to put forward legislative amendments that would roll back workplace safety rights in Bill 31, the Workplace Safety and Health Amendment Act. The Conservative amendments would have:

  • reduced the number of workplaces required to have a Health and Safety Representative;
  • given employers the right to interfere with the right of workers to access safety training; and
  • made it more difficult for Safety and Health Officers to stop dangerous working conditions.

The Conservative amendments were defeated by NDP members of the committee. The only amendments that passed were two NDP motions to ensure no employer interference in the right of workers to choose their own safety representatives.

The hearing provided an opportunity for Manitobans to have their voices heard on the provincial government’s proposed improvements to the Workplace Safety and Health Act. MFL President Kevin Rebeck made a presentation in support of the bill and made several recommendations to strengthen health and safety protections in Manitoba workplaces.

“We welcome Manitoba’s goal of ‘making Manitoba the safest place to work in North America’,” said Rebeck. ”This is an aggressive goal, but we believe it is achievable. Bill 31 is one part of the strategy to get us there.”

Workers from CUPE, MGEU, UFCW and the Winnipeg Labour Council also made presentations in support of Bill 31, a central component of Manitoba’s new Five Year Workplace Injury and Illness Prevention Plan. Every presenter spoke in support of the bill. “How can we put a price tag on our workers lives? It’s our civic responsibility to keep our workers safe. As a society we all want to go to work and be safe,” said Michelle Balina, Vice President of CUPE Local 998 (Manitoba Hydro).

At the end of the hearing, Bill 31 was passed by the committee and will now go to the full legislature for third reading and a final vote.

Key provisions of Bill 31 include:

  • providing immediate fines for activities presenting an imminent risk to workers or for backsliding to unsafe conditions after an improvement order has been issued,
  • strengthening protections when a worker refuses unsafe work,
  • enshrining workers’ rights in legislation and penalizing employers that prevent workers from exercising their rights,
  • requiring a workplace safety and health representative in every workplace with five or more workers, and
  • providing a framework for the new chief prevention officer to review workplace injuries and deaths and report to Manitobans on prevention efforts.