Cape Breton coal miners have new life in fight for benefits
Federal government says it would have to pay workers compensation after age 65 if N.S. changes law
Retired Cape Breton coal miners have new life in their fight to have workers compensation benefits extended past age 65.
Last month, the federal government said it was not considering the request.
But in an email this week, Helena Sergakis, senior communications adviser for Public Services and Procurement Canada, said it was possible.
She said the federal government pays its employees' workers compensation benefits based on provincial rules. She said if Nova Scotia's Workers' Compensation Act was amended, Public Services and Procurement Canada "would be required to pay entitled benefits per current legislation."
Bobby Gillis and about 120 other coal miners got injured after working for the Cape Breton Development Corporation, also known as Devco, a federal Crown corporation.
The miners used to get workers compensation benefits for life, until the provincial law changed in 1990, cutting them off at age 65.
Gillis said the miners are only asking for the return of a benefit they once had.
Nova Scotia Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis has said the province could change the law, but only if the feds agree to it first.
Putting the pressure on
Now that the federal government says it would have to pay the benefits if the province amended its law, Gillis is pressing for the change.
Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan comes from a coal mining family in a coal mining community. He also represents many of the miners and is in the provincial cabinet.
Gillis said MacLellan initially backed the miners' efforts to get the benefit back.
But Gillis said MacLellan is no longer standing up for miners.
"He's right nice to your face," said Gillis, "and 'I'm going to go to the wall for you. You know my father was a coal miner. I'll do all this stuff, right?' And then he just turns his back on these guys."
MacLellan was stung by the accusation.
"Listen, that's, it's hard for me to accept," he said.
"It's disappointing. That's not the case. There would be nothing that would give me greater pleasure in my capacity at the cabinet table than to be able to do this. There's no two ways about that."
But MacLellan said any change to the Workers' Compensation Act would have to apply to all workers, not just miners.
"We can't amend that for federal employees," he said. "If we amend it, it's for everyone, which becomes a billion-dollar cost for the province."
With Tuesday being Miners Memorial Day in Nova Scotia, Gillis said the miners plan to ramp up the pressure on provincial politicians.
MORE TOP STORIES