Budget bill changes Canada Labour Code to drastically cut health protection for federally-regulated workers

New definition of “danger” is inconsistent with recent reforms to product safety legislation.

Nov 22 2013

Toronto – Major changes to the Canada Labour Code are buried in the second omnibus bill to implement the federal budget of last March. The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has today raised concerns with the Commons and Senate Committees reviewing Bill C-4, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget table in Parliament on March 21, 2013, and other measures.

CELA’s environmental law expertise includes environmental protection and consumer product safety, as well as access to information and public participation rights. This work can overlap with occupational health and safety issues, particularly when it comes to the potential for chronic toxicity from exposure to chemicals or radiation.

“Our submissions to the Commons and Senate Committees focus on one issue: the drastic narrowing of how “danger” would be defined under the Code,” stated Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher with CELA.

The current definition includes the potential for workplace exposures, for example to chemicals such as asbestos or exposure to radiation, to lead to chronic disease or illness, or to damage to the reproductive system. The new definition limits “danger” to immediate and acute hazard.

“This new definition of “danger” denies the possibility of chronic hazards and thus ignores extensive scientific evidence. We know there are dangerous chronic effects of exposure to asbestos and radiation, and there is strong evidence that reproductive harm can result from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals,” Cooper noted.

The Canada Labour Code amendments are also inconsistent with recent reforms to product safety law. After extensive consultation, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, enacted in 2011, includes a strong definition of “danger” that is quite similar to the definition we presently have in the Canada Labour Code in that it recognizes the potential for products to contribute to chronic illness or disease.

For the sake of federally-regulated worker health and safety, protection against future chronic disease or illness, including reproductive damage, CELA has urged the Commons and Senate Committees to reject this amendment. The definition of “danger” in the Canada Labour Code is not broken and does not need to be fixed.

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For more information:
Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher, kcooper@cela.ca 705-341-2488 (cell)
CELA Submission to Commons and Senate Committees (4 pages)