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Alberta Fightback

Alberta Bill 47: A fundamental attack on workplace health and safety

Bill 47 was tabled on November 5, 2020 to amend the Workers Compensation Act and replaces the Occupational Health and Safety Act in its entirety. It contains major revisions of health and safety regulations, all of them cut corners and roll back workers rights for the exclusive benefit of employers.

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Injured workers' benefits

Bill 47 removes many legal responsibilities of employers to workers. One change is the removal of the critical responsibility for employers to pay health and dental benefits to workers off work resulting from an injury on the job.

The diminished financial responsibility of employers to injured workers is a key factor in making all workplaces more dangerous.

Before Bill 47

Employers were required to pay health benefits for injured workers while they were absent from work or unable to perform their regular duties due to a work injury for up to one year following the accident. Injured workers were entitled to the same benefits they had before the accident.

Typically, worker’s spouse, adult interdependent partner, or dependants covered under the worker’s health benefit plan were also eligible for continued coverage after the accident.

Employers that did not extend health benefits were penalized.

After Bill 47

Employers will no longer have to contribute to health benefit plans (typically covers family) for injured workers who are off work. This cost will be borne by the injured workers.

Eliminating the financial responsibility for injured workers’ benefits reduces employers’ incentive to make workplaces safe for workers.

This will return Alberta to the pre-2017 culture of unreasonably denied WCB claims.

Download the whole factsheet here (pdf).

Reinstating Injured Workers

One of the key changes in Bill 47 is the removal of an employer’s obligation to re-employ injured workers when they are ready to return to work.

The omnibus bill puts employer profits ahead of workers’ health and safety and would return the Workers Compensation Board to a corporate model that denies many injured workers the compensation to which they are entitled.

Before Bill 47

Employers are obligated to reinstate an injured worker and accommodate them.

After Bill 47

Employers will not be legally obligated to reinstate an injured worker. Employers may do so voluntarily.

Employers have a duty to accommodate disabled workers through human rights legislation. This is typically a lengthy (approx. two years) reinstatement process with the Human Rights Commission. During the process, WCB can reduce or terminate an injured worker’s benefits via a process known as “deeming”.

While employers technically have an obligation to accommodate injured workers, Alberta no longer provides an effective way for workers to appeal when employers fail to meet this obligation.

Download the whole factsheet here (pdf).

Safety Training

Bill 47 upsets the well-established “hierarchy of controls” (elimination, substitution, engineering or administrative controls). Instead of properly mitigating workplace hazards, it dramatically shifts the training onus onto workers instead of employers.

Before Bill 47

Clear legislative requirement that employers ensure workers are adequately trained to protect their health and safety: before the worker begins performing a new work activity; uses new equipment; performs a new process; or is moved to a different work site.

After Bill 47

Only imposes the more general requirement that employers must ensure workers are adequately trained in all matters necessary to perform their work in a healthy and safe manner.

Download the whole factsheet here (pdf).

Medical Review Panels

The workers’ compensation system is the product of a special compromise between workers and employers—one that is nearly a century old in Alberta. It is not a system designed around an “us versus them” approach, but rather “we’re all in this together”. Bill 47 threatens to radically alter workers’ role in health and safety oversight. Medical review panels will also be dismantled with the goal of saving government expenses rather than compensating injured workers.

Before Bill 47

Medical panels are used by the workers’ compensation system to provide an impartial, independent decision-making process to resolve disagreements in medical opinion that arises between workers and the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB).

After Bill 47

The medical panels would be abolished. Instead, the WCB would assume responsibility for compiling a roster of physicians to conduct medical examinations as directed by the WCB.

Download the whole factsheet here (pdf).

Joint Health and Safety Committees

One of the most important battles Alberta workers have won is the right to be involved in the workplace decisions that impact our safety. This generally takes the form of a joint health and safety committee with equal representation from workers and the employer.

After all, if strong health and safety provisions are not in place and enforced by the employer, it is workers who are in danger. Too many workplace fatalities could have been prevented with more proactive planning with direct input from workers on the job.

Alberta Bill 47 proposes radical changes to the workplace health and safety laws, including the thousands of joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) across the province.

Before Bill 47
  1. All employers and worksites with more than 20 employees must have a JHSC
  2. Mandatory committee member training
  3. Workers select their representatives
  4. JHSC involved at every stage of prevention
After Bill 47
  1. Many worksites with more than 20 workers exempted from JHSC requirement
  2. No training requirements
  3. Unclear how worker representatives are selected
  4. Limited JHSC involvement and roles

Download the whole factsheet here (pdf).

Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

You have a right to refuse to perform any work you think will injure you or your fellow workers, but Bill 47 rolls back your right to refuse unsafe work:

Before Bill 47
  1. Your employer must tell you if the work you’re assigned has been refused by somebody else for safety concerns.
  2. You can refuse unsafe work that has “dangerous conditions”.
  3. Workers who have refused unsafe work participate in the workplace investigation.
  4. If you are disciplined by the employer, you can file a complaint with a provincial Occupational Health and Safety Officer.
Before Bill 47
  1. Your employer is only required to tell you after the other worker has contacted Occupational Health and Safety Alberta, which can only happen after the employer has written a report.
  2. You can only refuse unsafe work if is an “undue hazard”, a far higher standard that includes an “immediate threat” requirement. This likely excludes your ability to refuse work that could result in a COVID-19 exposure, since the illness will not manifest immediately.
  3. No requirement exists to involve the worker or their union in the investigation.
  4. Unionized workers may only use the grievance process. In some workplaces, this is could be a significant new administrative burden.

Download the whole factsheet here (pdf).

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Kicking Albertans while they're down graphic

Getting injured shouldn't mean getting fired graphic

Safety isn't optional graphic

Guilty until proven innocent graphic

Workers deserve a seat at the table graphic

Right to refuse unsafe work graphic

For further reading

Alberta Government Continues Rollback of Worker Protections