A group of unions says they have worker safety in mind as they sue the federal government over its proposed public service bill.
A coalition of 18 unions including the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) and Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) are banding together to fight Bill C-4 in the courts.
The proposed legislation would take away some government union bargaining rights, rework the arbitration process and also change rules around worker safety.
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- Proposed labour code changes worry safety advocates
- Read the full text of Bill C-4
Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said the way the bill would redefine the concept of “danger” at work will get workers killed.
“If it's in question, you should say ‘I'm not going to do it until I'm assured it's safe,’” he said.
“What they've changed it to say is only if the danger is imminent, if there's an explosive or the building's on fire can you say ‘I'm not going to do that work.’”
Gov’t: workers will be shielded from all ‘hazards’
Human Resources Canada said in a written statement to CBC News that it disagrees with Georgetti’s interpretation.
"The definition of danger still provides protection from all hazards; imminent, serious or (of a) longer-term impact to life and health," it said.
The bill’s opponents said they still have questions about protecting workers from buildings containing asbestos, for example.
They said they’re also led to believe it would be up to the federal Minister of Labour to make the ultimate safety decision.
“It also changes the manner in which these matters are going to be reported and investigated, to bring it into the minister's hands rather than independent labour officers,” said Isabelle Roy, a representative of PIPSC.
The federal government said in practice, the minister would send that decision back into the hands of a health and safety officer.
Bill would affect anyone covered by Canadian Labour Code
The group of unions said in a news release they’re challenging the constitutionality of the changes in Bill C-4 before their next round of collective bargaining with the Treasury Board in 2014.
Since it was announced, public sector unions have expressed anger over their lack of consultation in shaping the bill and the ability it would give the government to decide what’s an “essential service.”
Bill C-4 would affect all federal government workers and anyone covered under the Canadian Labour Code, which includes aviation, rail and telecommunications workers.
The union news release said their legal partnership will also extend to defending health and safety in their workplaces, educating workers and bargaining in 2014.
The bill will have to be passed in 2014, given that Parliament rose for their holiday break on Tuesday.