Nova Scotia

Cape Breton coal miners have new life in fight for benefits

The federal government now says it would have to extend workers compensation benefits to Cape Breton coal miners after the age of 65, if the Nova Scotia government amended its legislation.

Federal government says it would have to pay workers compensation after age 65 if N.S. changes law

Retired Devco coal miner Roy Moore says he had to sell his home and move to a small house after he lost about $2,400 a month in workers' compensation benefits at age 65. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

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, a retired Devco coal miner, says the miners are only asking for the return of a benefit they once had. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

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.

Stinging accusation

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."

Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan says if Nova Scotia amended the Workers' Compensation Act, it would have to do that for everyone, not just miners, and that could cost the province $1 billion. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

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.

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 33 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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