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75-Minute Debate (26 April 2007)

From Hansard - 26 April 2007

Occupational Health and Safety for Workers

To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 1:49:55.
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Sandra Morin (NDP - Regina Walsh Acres) moved the following motion:

That this Assembly support the government’s plan to strengthen protection in the area of occupational health and safety for workers both in government and in the private sector.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’m certainly pleased to be able to enter into this debate and speak to the motion put forward by the member from Regina Walsh Acres, Mr. Speaker. This is certainly an important issue that needs to be dealt with, Mr. Speaker, and we certainly take these issues very seriously even though we’ve listened to the two speakers on the government side who try to play politics with this important issue, Mr. Speaker.

I listened carefully to the member from Walsh Acres, Mr. Speaker, and she said that this is an important issue, and that it is. I would certainly agree with that. And then she went on to play cheap political politics, Mr. Speaker, referring over and over again to all the great things that this NDP government has done and previous NDP governments have done and made a number of unfounded statements about the Saskatchewan Party’s position on issues like this, Mr. Speaker.

The question I would ask, if it’s such an important issue, let’s debate the issue, Mr. Speaker, and let’s keep the politics out of it as much as possible, Mr. Speaker. I certainly didn’t hear that, particularly from the first speaker, and I think we need to do that.

Now I listened carefully to what the Minister of Labour said. He certainly had some very good points that we don’t find fault with, but he also presented some facts, Mr. Speaker, that perhaps need some expanding as to where Saskatchewan is as far as workplace safety.

Certainly there has been improvements, Mr. Speaker, but there needs to be improvements. Saskatchewan in 2002 had time-loss injuries of 4.9 injuries per 100 workers, the second highest — that was back in 2002 — and that was the second highest in Canada. Certainly there’s been improvements as the minister said, an 18 per cent decrease, but how do we stack up with other provinces?

Well we’re down to 4.05 workplace injuries per 100 workers, but we’re still the second highest in Canada, Mr. Speaker. So other jurisdictions — and they’re not all governed by NDP governments, Mr. Speaker — are making significant progress on this very important issue. And we need to do better, Mr. Speaker. It’s one thing to talk the talk as this government often does — and particularly on this issue and other issues like the environment — but the true test is, are they willing to walk the walk? And I think, Mr. Speaker, by any fair analysis in some of these cases, and even on this case, Mr. Speaker, I think they come up short, Mr. Speaker.

Another issue which is maybe not directly related to occupational health and safety, but I’m sure it does lead to stress in the workplace, and that’s this whole issue of the way workers working side by side are paid, in northern Saskatchewan. We have this situation that’s been in place for many, many years where people living in the North are exempted from overtime. They are not entitled to overtime. Yet if workers living in the South are working in the North, working side by side with a northern person, doing exactly the same job, one worker is paid overtime; the other worker is not paid overtime, Mr. Speaker. Do you think that may cause a little bit of stress in the workplace? I would think it does, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier asked the member from Regina Northeast to do a study on this issue and submit a report. That was done. The member submitted his report to the Premier back in February. We have heard nothing. I asked the Minister of Labour, what’s happening with this report? He basically says that he doesn’t know. I suspect that that report is on the Premier’s desk, and obviously there’s an issue in that report that these people have some difficulty with. So rather than actually addressing the issue, they choose not to deal with it, Mr. Speaker. Yet they stand in the legislature and they purport to be the protectors of the working men and women of this province. And in many cases, Mr. Speaker, it’s simply all talk and not much action, Mr. Speaker.

They vilify the employers as those terrible people who create these unsafe working conditions in this province. And, Mr. Speaker, there may be the odd exception to unsafe workplaces, but the majority of employers — many, the vast majority of employers — have said the most valuable asset that they have in their businesses are their employees, and they are very concerned about the well-being of their employees. And they are very concerned about safety and safe working and harassment-free workplaces, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, some of the actions that the Minister of Labour mentioned are certainly, as I’d said earlier, laudable goals. We certainly fully support a number of these measures, including educating both the employers and the employees about safety in the workplace. And that I think, Mr. Speaker, is certainly key. Because you can have the strongest regulations, you can have the best practices as far as safety in the workplace, but if people fully don’t understand them, are not engaged — whether it’s the employer or the employee — accidents do happen, Mr. Speaker.

And I have had a number of people, both employees and employers, talk to me about things that happen in the workplace, as far as safety and practices that could be put in place to prevent them. And from my observation, understanding and compliance and education is very important on this issue, Mr. Speaker.

We must make sure that the individual understands that they are responsible for their safety, and if they see shortcomings in the workplace, they have a responsibility to bring that to the attention of those people responsible for safe working conditions. We must also not create an environment, Mr. Speaker, where people feel that they are invincible and that no matter what happens they will not be injured, because that creates an unsafe mindset, Mr. Speaker.

I think back to an example that was related to me where the employer and the safety committee had all the measures in place to make sure that individuals, when they were required as part of their duties to climb ladders and work at higher distances above the ground, the safety harnesses were in place. Everything was there that was needed, except that the individuals and in one particular case, the individual worker, would consistently not comply with the established safety rules of the safety committee. And the employer was at his wits’ end as to what to do with this individual. He brought him into the office and explained that all these things are for their well-being. And yet that individual would not comply. So the employer had no alternative but to release that individual.

Now this is certainly an exception, I’m sure, because I would think that most employees are very conscious of their safety and avail themselves of measures that are put in place, Mr. Speaker.

But that goes back to my comments about education. We need to make sure that both the employees and the employers understand why regulations and rules are put in place. And I think if we take that approach, Mr. Speaker, rather than the heavy-handedness of having regulations in place and saying, this is the way it’s going to be done, without ever explaining why it needs to be done this way, Mr. Speaker, I think we would be much more successful. And we would be much more successful in lowering the injury rates that we have in this province, Mr. Speaker.

One of the other things, one of the reasons our injury workplace is as high as it is, is because of the large amount of injuries in the health care sector. And that’s a result, Mr. Speaker, of a shortage of health care workers, who are workers working overtime, they’re tired, and yet they need to be there because they’re very dedicated to provide the services that are required. And, Mr. Speaker, when people are working long hours and are fatigued, Mr. Speaker, it’s a recipe for injuries. And we’ve seen that happen.

We’ve had the union of nurses talk to this government and ask them to increase training spots so that we have an adequate supply of health care workers. And what has this government done? They’ve made some feeble attempts in the last few years to address this issue, Mr. Speaker, and to date we don’t have the people we need. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Following the debate, there is a ten-minute question-and-answer period. The following section begins at 2:30:31 in the video.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, my question is to Minister of Labour, Mr. Speaker. The Minister of Labour earlier this week moved first reading of Bill 66, and we dealt with that yesterday in the House, Mr. Speaker. I have two questions actually for that minister, but I’ll ask my first question and then we’ll see if I get in for the second go-round.

But it seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that the amendments proposed by the minister may have been struck in haste in reaction to the Murdoch Carriere case. And the question that I would have for the minister is, how much consultation did he do prior, with both employees and employer groups, before moving that Bill forward?

Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This question has been before the Occupational Health and Safety Council. They have spent time talking about this. This whole issue around workplace bullying, intimidation, is one that’s been talked about across Canada, around the world.

We’ve looked at the work that’s being done in Quebec. Other provinces such as Manitoba, Ontario are looking at this. So we have a good sense of what people are talking about. And we are going to talk to labour and business through the council in the next few weeks. We’ve already got a meeting set up.

Mr. Speaker, may I have a question? Yes. Okay. Thank you. Well this is for the member from Last Mountain-Touchwood. And I just want to check to make sure I have this right. The Leader of the Opposition is very clear being on record about his feelings about labour. And he said:

. . . red tape and regulations that have been foisted onto the business community by this government, be it through Workers’ Compensation or occupational health and safety or various pieces of labour legislation, too often has driven businesses and the jobs they create and the taxes they pay out of the province of Saskatchewan.

Now I would like to know, is this the official position of the opposition, the Saskatchewan Party, or is it just one of their 100 bright ideas?

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, at least we have ideas on this side of the House, and this . . .

Some Hon. Members: — Hear, hear!

Mr. Hart: — . . . and that government has adopted many of them, and the people of this province are much better off, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, what we need in this province — and as exists in other provinces who are doing quite well and whose people have job opportunities and career opportunities, Mr. Speaker — is balance. And that’s what this party is talking about is balance. We certainly support safe workplaces, harassment-free workplaces, Mr. Speaker, but what we need to do is have balance. And the position of that party, Mr. Speaker, is regulation and the heavy hand of government rather than consulting both with employees and employers, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: — The Chair recognizes the member for Last Mountain-Touchwood.

Mr. Hart: — It looks like it’s a two-member show this afternoon, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would have a follow-up question to the Minister of Labour. Yesterday when I spoke to Bill 66, I recommended that we move the Bill to committee so that the committee could call witnesses so that we would hear from both employees and employers — the impact of the changes. We felt no need to impede the movement of this piece of legislation, but we feel it’s of utmost importance that the public has an opportunity to make their opinions known. And so therefore, Mr. Speaker, I’d ask the Minister of Labour, will he ask the Economy Committee to hold public hearings on Bill 66?

Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Well, Mr. Speaker, I have talked to the Chair of the Committee on the Economy about this discussion, so they’ll follow up with that.

But I have a question here. And the member opposite likes to talk about balance. But when it comes to occupational health and safety, you are talking about peoples’ lives. You are talking about injuries. This is a huge thing, and we know what the right things are to do. But when they’re talking about balance, I have this quote from the member from Kelvington-Wadena who said:

You don’t have to put forward every rule and regulation, because employers know . . . you don’t [have to] look after your employees, they’re not going to be there. They won’t want to come to work. They like their employees. You don’t have to trust government to tell them what to do.

Now is this their definition of balance when it comes to occupational health and safety regulations? I ask the member opposite from Last Mountain-Touchwood.

The Speaker: — Order please. It’s getting to be difficult here to distinguish between the response and the question. I’ve taken that as the member’s response. The member has used his time, and I recognize the member for Regina Walsh Acres.

The debate continued among other members. The following section begins at 2:38:32 in the video.

Hon. Ms. Atkinson: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have a question to the member from Last Mountain, and the question is this . . . Touchwood lost mountain or whatever. My question is, my question is: does your caucus have an anti-harassment policy for the people that work in your caucus, or do . . .

The Speaker: — Order. Order. I ask that the question be directed through the Chair.

Hon. Ms. Atkinson: — Yes. I ask the member, does he as an individual MLA have an anti-harassment policy in his constituency office?

Mr. Hart: — Mr. Speaker, it’s amazing what members opposite will do to deflect the attention to the harassment case of the Murdoch Carriere, Mr. Speaker. They had harassment in the workplace, and they knew about it for 10 years, Mr. Speaker . . .

The Speaker: — Order please. Order. Order please. Order. Member for . . . Order. Order now. Order please. Member for Last Mountain-Touchwood.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I recognize that the name of my constituency is quite long, and I certainly am pleased that some people in this House can get it right, Mr. Speaker.

But getting back to the member’s question, Mr. Speaker, they use every tactic they can think of to deflect attention from the real issue, the issue of a high-placed employee harassing nine women in the workplace that we know of, Mr. Speaker.

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