Member education push begins in Alberta

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During a videoconference earlier this month, a wide cross-section of Unifor members in Alberta strategized about the relentless attack by premier Jason Kenney on workers’ rights.

One key tactic they discussed was getting more information out to members about what the new legislation means for rank-and-file members.

Starting this week, Unifor began producing a series of weekly factsheets to help make sense of Kenney’s anti-worker agenda.

Kenney introduced several bills in 2020 that significantly curtail the right of workers to protest, form unions, and speak out collectively against injustice. The latest wave in the attack on workers is Bill 47, a complete re-write of workplace health and safety laws in Alberta.

“Nobody voted for this. I doubt Jason Kenney would have been elected if he was honest about his intensions to strip Alberta workers of the most basic health and safety protections,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

The first email and factsheet to be sent to Unifor members in Alberta was sent this week. It explains the serious ways in which Bill 47 undermines the right to refuse unsafe work.

If Bill 47 passes, it will put thousands of Albertans at risk of workplace injury or even death.

Previously, if a worker in Alberta was assigned work that a co-worker already refused to perform because of safety concerns, the employer was required to disclose that fact to anyone else assigned to perform the task. Bill 47 strips workers of that right to know.

Bill 47 also removes the right of workers who refused unsafe work to participate in the workplace investigation.

In Alberta, the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work has historically applied to “dangerous conditions”. Bill 47 restricts the right to refuse unsafe work only to “undue hazards.” In other words, unless the work poses a serious and immediate threat to health and safety, a worker cannot legally refuse to do it.

This subtle change prevents the legal refusal of work that is ergonomically unsafe or might result in a COVID-19 exposure because risk of injury is not immediate.

Bill 47 shrinks the ability of Alberta’s workers to fight retribution from the employer. If an employer disciplines someone for refusing unsafe work, union members can no longer file a complaint with the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Officers. Under Bill 47, unionized workers must instead rely on the grievance procedure alone.

“The sheer volume of changes Jason Kenney is forcing through the legislature during a pandemic is overwhelming,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director. “This factsheet series is meant to help provide Unifor members with vital information about what they’re poised to lose if Kenney gets his way.”