OVERVIEW: Making It Home Safely From Work
Working families expect their loved ones to return home from work each day, healthy and safe. Unfortunately, thousands of Manitobans continue to be injured on the job or develop illness from dangerous conditions at work. Some never make it home at all (in 2014, there were 30,202 reported workplace injuries and 27 Manitobans died on the job).
Workplace tragedies don’t have to happen. With the right laws, policies and investments, we can ensure that all workers stay safe on the job.
The approach taken by our provincial government to workplace health and safety – including focus on injury prevention, the strength of laws and regulations to protect workers, and commitment to enforcement activities – has a big impact on whether or not working families can count on their loved ones having safe workplaces.
So far, none of the three major political parties have made new election promises related to workplace health and safety – we hope there are announcements still to come. We encourage all parties to develop strong platforms to improve health and safety in Manitoba – it’s an issue that deserves to be taken seriously and talked about with voters.
In evaluating their past performance, there are significant differences in the way political parties have acted on health and safety in the past, and these performance records should also be considered carefully by working families as they go to the polls.
Moving In The Right Direction
While still more needs to be done to prevent workplace injuries and fatalities and to keep people safe and healthy at work, there are encouraging trends in Manitoba, which coincide with major strengthening of workplace health and safety policy.
Setting The Election Bar
Working families deserve to know where the parties and candidates stand on the policies that can keep their loved ones safe and healthy at work. We encourage all parties to develop strong platforms to protect workers on the job.
For example, the number of workplace safety and health inspections has increased significantly over the course of the NDP government’s mandate, from less than 2,000 the year they took office, to now more than 12,000 / year.
Workers are also losing less time from work as a result of being injured on the job, though some caution is needed when considering statistics in this area because many injuries continue to go unreported due to financial incentives in the workers compensation system. Since 2000, Manitoba’s time loss due to injury rate has been reduced by 45%, reaching a new low of 3.1 per 100 full-time workers in 2014.
- Expanding injury prevention activities under Manitoba’s Five Year Plan for Injury and Illness Prevention
- Regularly updating health and safety rules to strengthen protection and respond to changing workplace hazards
- More workplace inspections and stricter enforcement of workplace health and safety laws
- Criminal prosecution of employers responsible for workplace fatalities
- Targeted strategies to protect especially vulnerable workers, such as youth and workers with language barriers
- Better support for victims of workplace injuries and illness and their families
- Cracking down on employers that discourage injured workers from filing WCB claims
- Expanding WCB coverage, improving claims processing times and ensuring access to appropriate rehabilitation & treatment, support, and fair benefits for ill or injured workers
- New strategies to address workplace mental health
WHERE THE PARTIES STAND
- The Liberals’ current MLA and former party leader, Jon Gerrard, voted in support of the NDP’s strengthening of the Workplace Safety and Health Act in 2002, but said he had “concerns” about imposing penalties on employers that refuse to comply with the law (Hansard, August 6, 2002).
- In 2006, Jon Gerrard introduced an unsuccessful Private Member’s Bill to bring psychological harassment into Workplace Safety and Health Regulations.
- Jon Gerrard voted in support of further strengthening of the Workplace Safety and Health Act in 2013 describing the amendments as a “positive step forward” (Hansard, September 13, 2013).
- Jon Gerrard was supportive of the government’s 2014 Workers Compensation Act amendments and legislation establishing presumptive coverage for PTSD.
When the PCs were last in office in Manitoba during the 1990s, workplace health and safety inspections were cut by 63%, and Manitoba had the lowest rate of Workers Compensation coverage in all of Canada. In Opposition, the PCs have opposed a number of very important improvements to Workplace Safety and Health legislation, while generally supporting amendments to Workers Compensation legislation:
- When the NDP strengthened the Workplace Safety and Health Act to add administrative fines for employers that refuse to comply with the law in 2002, the PC Opposition voted against the new law. They opposed the new fines for unsafe workplaces because they didn’t want to “punish” business. The Conservative Labour Critic of the day was more concerned about business than safety, calling the strengthened safety act “a bad-for-business bill.” (Ron Schuler, Hansard, Aug. 8, 2002).
- When the government moved to increase fines for serious violations of the Workplace Safety and Health Act, the PC Opposition voted against the increase. PC members criticized the higher fines as nothing more than “red tape, regulation and bureaucracy” (Hugh McFadyen, Brandon Sun, April 9, 2010) and “just a tax grab” (Peter Dyck, Hansard, June 15, 2010).
- The PCs also voted against the 2013 amendments to the Workplace Safety and Health Act which strengthened worker rights and participation in health and safety activities and stiffened penalties against employers for violations. Leanne Rowat, the PC’s Labour Critic raised particular concerns about the “burden” of needing to have worker health and safety representatives designated in smaller workplaces, and cautioned against overly forceful enforcement of health and safety rules (Hansard, September 4, 2013).
- The PCs ended up supporting the government’s road worker safety amendments in 2013, but only after they came under heavy criticism from labour and business alike for stalling the bill’s passage.
- The PCs expressed support for the government’s 2014 amendments to strengthen the Workers Compensation Act, as well as for PTSD presumptive coverage legislation.
Since taking office in 1999, the NDP has strengthened the Workplace Safety and Health Act and Regulations in a number of important ways (see below), and expanded Workers Compensation coverage for injured workers to 37,000 more workers — the first expansion since the 1960s.
A bold new Five-Year Plan for Workplace Injury and Illness Prevention has been put in place, with the goal of making Manitoba one of the safest places to work in North America. Prevention programming has been strengthened and consolidated into a new dedicated prevention arm, SAFE Work Manitoba, and the innovative program, Safe Workers of Tomorrow, has been provided with multi-year funding to reach out to youth and new workers about their safety and health rights.
After a number of reviews confirmed serious problems with employers illegally discouraging injured workers from filing WCB claims, the Workers Compensation Board is now in the process of implementing a series of multi-year adjustments to its rate model which aim, among other things, to reduce incentives for employer claim suppression and increase incentives for investment in prevention.
Specific legislative and regulatory changes have included:
- In 2002, the Workplace Safety and Health Act was strengthened to include new administrative fines for employers that refuse to comply with the law, and to expand the requirement for health and safety programs to small workplaces.
- In 2006, the Workers Compensation Act was amended to expand presumptive coverage for fire fighters who contract certain cancers, and to provide 100% wage replacement for injured workers earning minimum wage.
- Workplace Safety and Health Regulations underwent an across-the-board modernization in 2007, including new rules to protect pregnant and nursing workers, address violence in the workplace and strengthen protections for particularly hazardous work environments (e.g. asbestos, excavations and confined entry work).
- Fines for employers that flout the rules that keep workplaces safe were hiked in 2010.
- New regulations to protect workers from harassment and bullying in the workplace were implemented in 2011.
- In 2013, the Act was amended to strengthen worker rights to refuse unsafe work and to be protected against discriminatory actions, to enhance worker participation in decisions about health and safety in the workplace, to expand the requirement for worker health and safety representatives to more workplaces (with 5 or more employees), to impose tougher penalties and sanctions on employers who violate the law, and to legislate a Chief Prevention Officer.
- Also in 2013, amendments were introduced to the Highway Traffic Act to better protect road workers in construction sites.
- The Workers Compensation Act was amended in 2014 to enshrine workers’ rights in legislation, to increase penalties for employers that discourage injured workers from filing WCB claims, to stiffen rules around employers who take discriminatory actions against workers, and to establish a prevention committee to oversee the activities of SAFE Work Manitoba.
- In 2015, the government passed legislation to provide workers with presumptive coverage for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (coverage took effect Jan 1, 2016).