Workers’ health and safety expected to be next on Liberal chopping block

B.C. Federation of Labour leads delegation to Victoria to confront MLAs

As part of the B.C. Federation of Labour’s Campaign BC, more than 40 people, most of them injured workers, traveled to Victoria today to lobby MLAs about sweeping changes they fear the Liberals are set to make to Workers’ Compensation Board regulations.

HEU member Jacquie Adams, an injured worker from Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, was part of the delegation. She knows that as a health care worker she has a lot at stake if the Liberals take the teeth out of health and safety regulations and workers’ compensation.

That’s because health care workplaces are the most dangerous places to work in the province. Every 75 minutes, 24 hours a day, a health care worker is hurt on the job, and most of them are HEU members.

“Our members suffer from one of the highest rates of workplace injuries and illnesses,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “And now Gordon Campbell’s Liberals seem to be poised to strip away many key provisions that protect B.C. workers’ on-the-job health and safety.”

The Liberals have carried out two separate core reviews on the WCB. The reports are probably not going to be made public prior to the introduction of legislative changes. However, British Columbians are likely to see regulations that protect workers’ health and safety at the workplace gutted, including the right to refuse unsafe work.

“We are being kept in the dark right now, so everything is speculation, but we are pretty sure that we will see less compensation due to changes in pension entitlement and in the rate of wage loss benefits,” says Allnutt. “These cuts will punish workers who get injured by employers’ unsafe working conditions.”

Deregulation of health and safety rules is also a very real possibility, leaving employers to regulate themselves.

But Allnutt says that HEU and other unions are organizing to fight such sweeping changes in the way workers are protected from injury and illness on the job. Today’s trip to Victoria is part of that fight.

Next week will see activists around the province meeting with their MLAs to talk to them about what it means to be unable to work because of workplace injury or illness. And about how deregulation and the slashing of benefits is a slap in the face to British Columbians.

April 28 is the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job. Since that day is a Sunday, workers around the province will observe a minute of silence on Friday, April 26 at 11 a.m.

In Vancouver, there will be a ceremony at the Workers’ Memorial at Hastings Park (the former Pacific National Exhibition grounds) on April 28 at noon and labour councils in towns and other cities across B.C. will be organizing events to honour those who have died or been injured at their places of work.