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December 1, 2016

OFL Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs

My name is Patty Coates and I am the Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). Also joining me today is Rob Halpin, Acting Director of Government Relations at the OFL.

Special thank you to the clerk’s office – for their work in scheduling time for us to present to the Committee today.

The Ontario Federation of Labour represents 54 unions and one million workers across Ontario. We are Canada’s largest provincial labour federation, and we advocate on behalf of all working people in the province.

Part of this advocacy involves pushing for better working conditions in regards to safe and healthy workplaces, access to permanent full-time work with good wages and benefits, and creating an economy built on decent jobs.

We are here today to express our concerns with Schedule 16 of Bill 70, Building Ontario Up for Everyone Act (Budget Measures), 2016.

Our concerns with Schedule 16 stem from the fact that any changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act that will affect the safety or well-being of workers in this province, deserves considerably more time, attention, and consultation, than has been permitted with this proposed legislation.

As background, I’d like to share some of the facts with you.

According to the WSIB’s by the numbers – statistical report for 2015, the WSIB served more than 5.3 million workers and more than 300,000 employers, and registered almost 230,000 claims.[1] Now, we know everyday in Ontario, many more workers are injured on the job, and either fail to file or claim, or their claim is suppressed by their employer, or denied by the WSIB. Our best estimate is that the failure to claim, or claim suppression rate may be between 20-60 per cent. Even with a conservative estimate of 40 per cent, that totals nearly 322,000 workers – that are injured while at work in a given year.

To put that into perspective, that is about the size of the population of the city of London, Ontario, every year, that are injured or become ill, as result of the conditions in which they work.

Clearly, the potential that so many Ontarians would be adversely affected is alarming, and should give pause for thought about the merits of these proposed changes.

To see these proposed changes, tucked into an omnibus budget bill, does not instill confidence in the minds of workers in Ontario, that their safety at work matters, or is being considered.

The amendments give the Chief Prevention Office expanded powers to accredit and set standards for health and safety management systems and an accreditation program.

There was little to no discussion, consultation or involvement of joint health and safety committees or of workers or unions. Even though, those were the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety which stated clearly that accreditation “be developed with participation of both employer and labour stakeholders”[2].

Even if the government plans to consult after Schedule 16 becomes law, it may be too late to understand the impact these changes will have on Ontario’s workplace health and safety policies and procedures.

The Minister of Labour and Chief Prevention Officer signaled that employers who meet these, yet to be determined standards, would be spared the burden of routine Ministry of Labour inspections, but that inspectors would still investigate complaints and incidents.

To their credit, once they realized that the optics of viewing health and safety practices as a burden was not sitting well with the people of Ontario, the Minister’s office acknowledged the error, and clarified their intent.

If the system that regulates the health and safety of workers in Ontario is predicated on reducing the perceived burden on employers, the result would be a system with less oversight and accountability, less protection and less ability for workers to voice their concerns.

Should schedule 16, as written, be enacted – what will actually occur is a transfer of burden to working people, who must now, with limited input, trust and hope that their employer values the safety of workers over profitability and efficiency.

Workers must have a right to participate in their own health and safety, and that includes being consulted on changes that have the potential to limit that right.

These concerns are not just the concerns of unions. They are indicative of how the broader public feels about this issue too. The people of Ontario need to know that when their children, grandchildren, partner, or parent goes to work in the morning, they will return home unharmed at the end of the day.

Families in Ontario want to know that the people whose job it is to care for others, like nurses and personal support workers, or those that educate, all workers,’ for that matter, feel safe and secure while they work.

I ask you to remove Schedule 16 from Budget Bill 70, and that a robust and comprehensive consultation on the issues occur, before any further legislation is tabled on the matter.

Thank you for your consideration.

Cope343

[1] WSIB, By the Numbers, 2015 – Retrieved at: http://www.wsibstatistics.ca/

[2] Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety, December 2010, pg. 41

COPE 343

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