Safety-concerned unions band together to fight Bill C-4

A group of unions says they have worker safety in mind as they sue the federal government over its proposed public service bill.

Coalition of 18 unions says workers could be killed by changes

Labour Minister Dr. Kellie Leitch speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. A group of unions say she will have the final word on if a situation is safe for workers. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

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.

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.

Ken Georgetti says the way the bill is currently constructed could get workers killed.

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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?