This week was a time to celebrate for HSAA members and Alberta workers.
Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, was introduced by the Alberta government. While the protections it contains for workers are unprecedented in Alberta, if passed, the changes will finally bring our province closer to alignment with the rest of the country in regards to crucial worker protections.
The changes outlined in Bill 30 are amendments to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act and Workers Compensation Act. HSAA has been fighting for some of these changes for a decade.
The changes to the OHS act increase the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace in many ways. For the first time, bullying and harassment will be addressed under health-and-safety law with requirements for employers and supervisors to address it, as well as a path for recourse for victims if the employer does not. Evidence supports that many employers still don’t take bullying and harassment concerns seriously and that workers are left to suffer in silence.
Many provisions in the proposed bill would force employers to listen to worker feedback on health-and-safety matters and take worker suggestions into account. Joint Workplace Health and Safety committees with worker representatives will now be mandatory and these committees will be involved in serious-incident investigations when a worker is injured on the job or when a worker refuses unsafe work, in order to allow for appropriate recommendations to be put forward to correct the issue that led to the incident or work refusal.
Lastly, provisions against retaliation by employers for workers who speak out about safety issues have been strengthened to give workers a tangible recourse against employers who engage in these illegal practices.
The Workers Compensation Act, the legislation that governs the board that oversees the compensation workers are entitled to when they are injured or killed on the job, also has some significant proposed amendments that will benefit HSAA members.
First and foremost, the duty to accommodate workers injured on the job will be entrenched in the WCB act. In the past, workers have had to rely on protections in their collective agreements or complex provisions in human-rights legislation.
Injured worker payments will be increased to more closely reflect the income of the worker prior to their injury, reducing financial hardship to the worker. If a worker is killed on the job, the benefits to surviving family members will also be increasing under the proposed legislation.
If workers are unsatisfied with the WCB’s handling of their claim, appeal measures are also being improved, including the length of time workers have the right to appeal a decision.
In addition, the advocacy by HSAA president Mike Parker and the HSAA Workplace Health, Safety and Wellness Committee has resulted in presumptive coverage for paramedics who experience a heart attack during or after the completion of their shift. This change brings paramedics in line with other first responders who have long had this coverage.
Meanwhile, the government said that in the near future it would extend presumptive coverage of coverage of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for emergency medical dispatchers and correctional officers. Presumptive coverage means that the diagnosis of PTSD is assumed to have been the result of workplace trauma, rather than having the workers identify specific events that led to the condition.
While this is just a summary of the proposed changes under Bill 30, HSAA believes that these changes are a fundamental step in the right direction and will improve the lives of all HSAA members and Alberta workers when passed into law.
HSAA has been working hard to persuade the Alberta government to make many of these changes for several years. The union was given a seat on review committees and the opportunity to provide feedback on both the OHS and WCB legislation.
While we didn’t get all the changes we think are necessary, we believe this is a significant step in the right direction. HSAA is committed to continue advocating for more improvements to OHS and WCB legislation and policies to build on these initial successes.
We believe that it is refreshing to have a government that listens to the concerns of workers and is willing to step up to the plate to protect workers over profits.