MPs misled about changes to diminish health and safety in the Canada Labour Code

Agriculture Union blows the whistle on Employment Skills Development Canada officials who misled Parliamentarians concerning amendments to water down health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code.

A new analysis of federal health and safety data undermines the government’s main argument in favour of weakening the Canada Labour Code and should cause Parliamentarians concern that they cannot make an informed decision on Bill C-4.

Last week, Employment and Skills Development Canada officials misled MPs on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Statistics were presented to MPs in support of amendments to weaken the right to refuse unsafe work provisions of the Canada Labour Code.

According to department officials, only one in five unsafe work refusals investigated during the past ten years were actually dangerous.  This is only part of the story.

MPs on the Committee asked for more detail, but officials insisted no further analysis of work refusal investigations is available. This is simply not true.  These actions are well documented and the information is readily available.

Officials also rejected suggestions that the number of inspectors has declined, another falsehood.

To quote a recently used phrase, these statements are incomplete and at variance with the facts.

Analysis of a large and random sample* of the work refusal complaints from the past ten years on file at Employment and Skills Development Canada presents an entirely different story.

“…of the 80%…did Health & Safety Officers also issue directions, or assurance of voluntary compliance (enforcement actions) because violations of the Code?”

Jinny Sims, MP

“Our administrative data doesn’t allow us to make that direct link.

Brenda Baxter, DG

Workplace Directorate, Labour Program – November 19, 2013

Analysis of Workplace Safety Refusal Investigations

When making their “80% statement”, officials withheld key information from MPs.  Contrary to their testimony to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, detailed workplace safety refusal investigations data is available.

Our review of a large portion of randomly selected files shows a significant number of enforcement actions (Directions to employers and Assurances of Voluntary Compliance) arising from investigation of safety-related work refusals.

These are serious safety infractions.  Failure to provide safety equipment that prevents death and severe injury and insufficient safety training are among the violations commonly uncovered.

In total, 52% (danger finding plus other enforcement action) of safety-related work refusals resulted in enforcement action in Group refusals, and 45% in Individual refusals.

Parliamentarians should be skeptical that the proposed amendments will free up resources for prevention.  The investigation of work refusals identifies and resolves more serious and potentially life-threatening problems than any other inspector activity.

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Source: Employment and Skills Development Canada (based on a 40% sample of work refusal files)

Analysis of Workplace Safety Refusal Investigations

Further analysis of the data reveals the limited picture provided to the committee by hiding the extent of other enforcement actions arising from investigations of refusal to work complaints.  Like an iceberg most of the story remains out of view for Parliamentarians.

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Source: Employment and Skills Development Canada (based on a 40% sample of work refusal files)

“There’s been a decline (in Health and Safety Officers) over the last number of years. It’s gone from about 150 down to about 85.”

Roger Cuzner, MP

“I can tell you that’s not the case.”

Kin Choi, ADM – 19 November 2013

Number of Inspectors

Officials testified that Bill C-4 isn’t about cuts or money because no cuts are planned.  In fact, the cuts have already happened.  Whether misinformed or disingenuous, ESDC officials gave Members of Parliament information that is inconsistent with the facts when it comes to the number of Health and Safety inspectors.  MPs have very good reason to worry that Health and Safety Officer cuts that have already been made are behind the proposed changes to water down the right to refuse unsafe work provisions of the Canada Labour Code.

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Source: Success is no accident, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, April 2010.

* During the past ten years (April 2003 to March 2013) 1040 Group and Individual refusals of unsafe work complaints were investigated.

This analysis of the internal Employment and Skills Development Canada is based on a review 40% of the files related to work refusals due to safety concerns.