Montreal, October 30, 2014 — The Harper government is playing a Halloween trick on Canadian workers whose jobs are governed by the Canada Labour Code, but federal correctional officers aren’t laughing. A new and weaker labour code definition of “danger” that was hidden in the 308 pages of last spring’s omnibus budget implementation legislation, the Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 2, takes effect October 31.
For the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN), the amendment will hamper future efforts to make federal penitentiaries safer and more secure. The law also eliminates independent federal Health and Safety Officers, who until tomorrow are responsible for investigating complaints of dangerous workplaces. HSOs will be replaced by political appointees reporting directly to the Labour Minister, who will now also have the power to unilaterally overturn their decisions.
“This is a revolting trick for anyone working under federal labour law, but especially on those of us who wear a uniform on behalf of our country,” said UCCO-SACC-CSN National President Kevin Grabowsky.
“As correctional officers, we are outraged by these reckless and unnecessary changes to the labour code.”
As amended in 2000, the Canada Labour Code definition of danger includes “any existing or potential hazard or condition or any current or future activity that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness to a person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be corrected.” The new definition subjects federal workers to the pre-2000 notion of “imminent” threat in order to justify a refusal to work under Section 128 of the labour code.
“In our workplace, when there is a two-foot length of steel pipe missing we know there will be danger, even if it is not imminent,” Mr. Grabowsky noted. Indeed, UCCO-SACC-CSN was one of the first unions to make extensive use of the 2000 definition of danger, winning a landmark Federal Court decision in 2004 that widened the application of the concept for all federally regulated workers.
The Federal Court’s Verville ruling – which resulted in our members’ right to carry handcuffs – affirmed that “danger” included unpredictable human behaviour. The wording in the new legislation eliminates these obvious elements of frontline correctional work as a consideration in the labour code. “For correctional officers, this change is crucial,” noted Mr. Grabowsky.
“It seriously weakens our ability to use the code to force safety changes in our institutions. It’s a prime example of the Conservative government’s dangerous anti-labour agenda.”