Toronto – Health and safety activists for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) are celebrating a win for workers after the Liberal government at Queen’s Park dropped its plan to weaken enforcement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) yesterday.
If passed as written, Bill 177 (Budget Measures) would have reduced the autonomy of health and safety inspectors employed by the Ministry of Labour (MOL) and allowed the Deputy Minister and Assistant Deputy Minister to block inspectors from issuing orders to employers.
“The way the bill was written, inspectors who stuck to their guns in a workplace and stood up for workers’ safety instead of employers’ profits would have exposed themselves not just to potential discipline but to prosecution as well,” said Len Elliott, Regional Vice-President of OPSEU for southwestern Ontario and an MOL inspector. “The changes in Bill 177 would have opened the door to the ministry telling inspectors to back off if an employer or group of employers complained loudly enough.
“I am absolutely delighted that the Liberal caucus listened to what our OPSEU leadership team in the ministry had to say,” he said. “Any time we protect the integrity of the OHSA is a win for workers.”
Members of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs voted down the proposed changes, included in Schedule 30 of the bill, on December 11.
The union supports other changes to the OHSA contained in Bill 177, including higher fines for employers who break the law and a new requirement that workplace health and safety representatives and committees report structural problems with buildings and structures directly to the MOL.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas thanked Elliott and union members on the MOL Ministry Employee Relations Committee for their vigilance and determination in defending workers’ safety.
“The fight for safe workplaces is never over, and a big part of that fight involves protecting the integrity of the enforcement system,” he said. “Occupational health and safety inspectors make great decisions hundreds of times a day, based on their training, their professional judgment, and their experience in the field. Every worker in Ontario should be grateful that inspectors are protecting their health and safety at Queen’s Park, too.”
For more information: Len Elliott, 519-857-4000