Workers to get right to refuse unsafe work as Alberta overhauls workplace rules
The new legislation would alter certain provincial safety provisions that haven't been evaluated since they were enacted in 1976
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EDMONTON—Workers would have the right to refuse dangerous work under new job site rules proposed by the Alberta government.
Labour Minister Christina Gray introduced changes to workplace health and safety provisions and to workers’ compensation in a bill tabled Nov. 27.
“Every year, hard-working Albertans are killed or injured on the job,” Gray told the house. “These incidents don’t just affect the workers involved, they affect families, communities, friends, co-workers and employers.
“They can be prevented with proper precautions, public awareness, training and effective enforcement of legislation.”
The bill proposes employees get more say on the health and safety of their workplace and more rights into how their claims are handled should they be injured.
It follows a lengthy review of workplace rules. Workers’ compensation had not been reviewed for 15 years, while occupational health and safety provisions had not been looked at since they were enacted in 1976.
Under the changes, a worker who refused dangerous work would continue to be paid while that refusal was investigated.
If the bill is passed, British Columbia will be the last jurisdiction where employees don’t have the right to refuse dangerous work.
One amendment would affect employers who are already barred from taking discriminatory action against workers who exercise their rights. The law would take that one step further and ban them from threatening punitive action.
Another change proposes the family of a worker killed on the job receive a lump-sum payment of $90,000.
There would also be no cap on benefits paid to injured workers. Right now, anyone hurt on the job is paid up to a maximum of 90 per cent of net earnings totalling $98,700 a year.
The bill also mandates the creation of health and safety committees for workplaces with 20 or more employees. The committees would inspect sites for hazards and help resolve disputes and workplace health and safety concerns.
There are also to be new rules clarifying workplace violence and harassment and outlining what supervisors must do to prevent such behaviour.
Employers would also have to report, not only workplace injuries, but also “near miss” incidents with the potential to cause injury.
Proposed changes to workers’ compensation rules would allow injured workers to initiate dispute resolution by a medical panel if doctors disagreed about a claim and would give greater choice of health providers in a case.
An independent office is to be established to help people navigate the system.
The Workers’ Compensation Board provides compensation for people hurt on the job and helps them recover. It’s funded by premiums paid by employers.
The province estimates the changes will cost an extra $94 million a year, but notes the board’s revenue this year is pegged at $1 billion.
As of 2016, there was another $10.5 billion in the board’s reserve fund.
Gray said the WCB intends to use some of that reserve fund to offset the initial cost of the changes and therefore prevent employer premiums from rising this year.
She said any premium hikes after that are up to the WCB.
If the bill is passed, the changes will kick in throughout 2018.
The government says more than 44,000 workers were injured on the job last year, and 144 workers died. The deaths were either from direct injury on the job or succumbing to job-related cancers and other illnesses from years earlier.
Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said the bill reflects changes his members have been urging for decades, particularly the right to refuse unsafe work.
As for injury claims, Smith said “significant changes to WCB within the bill will see the board have less absolute power over injured workers.
“Employees’ claims will now be received with more conviction by the board and when all things are equal, resolve will be in favour of the worker.”