Agriculture Union National President Bob Kingston is warning that workers will be forced to choose between their job and their health or even life if the Harper government’s planned gutting of current workplace health and safety protections proceeds.

Kingston’s pointed comments came as part of his remarks to a November 20 Parliament Hill news conference called to condemn the watering down of workplace health and safety protection contained in the Harper government’s omnibus budget bill, C-4.

If enacted, the changes to the Canada Labour Code would allow the employer to refuse to investigate unsafe or unhealthy workplace conditions. As well, the amendments would drastically reduce a worker’s right to refuse dangerous work, end the role of federal Health and Safety Officers in the investigation process and give employers the power to discipline workers should they invoke the right to refuse.

“Workplaces considered dangerous under the current law will be considered safe under these proposals,” noted Kingston, who co-chairs the National Joint Council’s occupational health and safety committee.

“The common sense measures under the current law offer protection from potentially hazardous conditions, including exposure to substances likely to result in chronic illness or disease, and damage to a worker’s reproductive system. These protections will all be gone under the amendments contained in Bill C-4.

“The threat of losing your job is a powerful incentive to keep your mouth shut even if you feel your workplace is not safe.”

Kingston shared the news conference podium with Rob Ellis, head of My Safe Work, a foundation that champions workplace safety through education. Tragically, Ellis’ teenage son was killed on the job during his second day of work.

Ellis strongly condemned the proposed gutting of the health and safety protections.

“Rather than making workplaces safer, these changes will have the opposite effect, deterring people from exercising their right and emboldening some employers to resist rather than fix,” he said.

“This is a solution in search of a problem that no one identified.  No one – unions or employers – has ever called for these changes or even raised them for discussion.”

Following the news conference, Kingston and Ellis met to discuss their concerns with opposition employment and social development critics, the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice and Liberal Rodger Cuzner.

Elsewhere, efforts to head off the life-threatening weakening of federal health and safety legislation are gaining momentum.

The Canadian Labour Congress has launched an on-line campaign that allows individuals to send an e-mail opposing the health and safety amendments directly to their Member of Parliament. You can lend your support by visiting the CLC Web site HERE.

As well, our bargaining agent, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, called for the Conservative government’s proposed changes to be abandoned during a November 21 appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.