In April of 2017, hundreds of unionized employees rallied outside the Alberta legislature, calling for amendments to the provincial labour code. The calls expressed a desire for progressive, fair, and balanced amendments that would catch Alberta up to the rest of the Canadian provinces. The rally was in response to the lack of changes to the legislation in the last 30 years as well as the NDP’s decision to review employment standards.
At the finish of the legislature’s fall sitting, the NDP followed through with the review, introducing and passing Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Wellbeing of Working Albertans. The bill brings new amendments to Alberta’s labour code, changing parts of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act. One of the most fundamental changes is the enshrinement of an employee’s right to refuse dangerous work. Currently, under the OH and S Act, employees have a “duty” to refuse unsafe work. Changing the language is meant to shift towards a more safety-oriented culture in the workplace, placing a heavier responsibility to only do safe work on the employer rather than the employee. As well as shifting the onus from employees to employers, the amendments also ensure the employees would still be paid while their refusal to work is investigated.
The amendments also serve to codify more rules to prevent workplace violence and harassment. Many work places have similar policies already in place to deal with bullying and harassment. However, proponents of the legislation assert that the the codification of the rules establish enforceable principles necessary for all Albertan workplaces to follow. According to NDP MLA, Maria Fitzpatrick, “harassment policies don’t carry the same weight as legislative change. The policy is nothing more than the paper it is written on unless the employees and employers abide by that policy.” Citing the recent harassment controversy with the Canadian Correctional Services at the Edmonton Institute, Fitzpatrick argued that “if there was legislation in place, it would have made a difference. There would have been consequences and direction about what should happen if this behavior continued.”
The amendments will also create work site health and safety committees that are aimed to empower workers and help to identify workplace risks. Changes to the Worker’s Compensation Act include larger fatality benefits to loved ones of workers, increased benefits for young workers who suffer long-term work injuries, the establishment of a fair practices office to aid people in navigating the compensation system and expanded coverage for psychological injuries, including PTSD, for all occupations. Overall, the purpose of the legislation is to change the WCB culture, focusing less on corporate profit and more on supporting and helping injured workers.
Critics of the legislation agree with the attention to workers’ mental well-being, but believe there should have been provisions added that require second individuals to be present when workers are questioned after workplace incidents. Such provisions exist in other Canadian jurisdictions. The reasoning is that, directly following incidents, workers are in a vulnerable position and a lack of assistance during the investigations can be detrimental to the worker’s mental health.
The changes will take effect June 1, 2018.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.