Author: Janet

Women Can No Longer be Forced to Wear High Heels in B.C. Workplaces

Risks of slipping or falling and possible damage to the feet, legs and back cited as reasons for new rules
Karin Larsen · CBC News April 7, 2017

The B.C. government has banned workplace requirements that force women to wear high heels. 
A mandatory high-heel dress code “is a workplace health and safety issue,” says the release put out by Premier Christy Clark and Labour Minister Shirley Bond.  
“There is a risk of physical injury from slipping or falling, as well as possible damage to the feet, legs and back from prolonged wearing of high heels while at work.”

Amendments to the Workers Compensation Act will “ensure that workplace footwear is of a design, construction and material that allows the worker to safely perform their work and ensures that employers cannot require footwear contrary to this standard,” said the release.
Bond credits B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver for initiating the change.
Last month Weaver introduced a bill in the provincial legislature asking for amendments to the Workers Compensation Act to make it illegal for an employer to require different footwear for women than for men.
​According to the statement, WorkSafeBC will develop workplace guidelines around the amended regulation which will be available at the end of this month. 

Families Want Police to Jail Employers for Workplace Deaths

By Mike De Souza in News, Politics | April 28th 2017

The warning signs were there.

In the months before Olivier Bruneau was killed on the job, his loved ones say he told just about everyone he knew that his workplace was dangerous.

Bruneau was 25 at the time of his tragic accident, on March 23, 2016. He was struck by a large chunk of ice that detached from a wall in the construction pit where he was working. It’s the site of a new luxury condo tower in the Little Italy neighbourhood of Ottawa.

“Since the winter holiday season in 2015, Olivier talked to us about the ice all the wtime,” Katia St. Jacques, who was Bruneau’s partner, told National Observer. “Even friends of my parents — after the accident happened, they told me: ‘we saw him two times in our life and that each time he spoke to us about ice.’ He was really concerned about it and there was an accident before — a worker who was struck by ice. This previous accident wasn’t as serious but the guys were concerned on the construction site.”

Bruneau is one of an estimated 1,000 people in Canada who are killed on the job every year. Laws exist to prevent these accidents from happening and punish those responsible, but labour union activists say the government needs to do more to ensure that rules are enforced.

“What’s really hard in cases like these is that the person who you love has passed away, and you can’t find out what happened,” said Christian Bruneau, Olivier’s father.

Allen Martin says he gets frustrated when he hears stories like the tragedy that struck Bruneau and his family. Martin’s brother, Glenn David, was one of the 26 people who were killed on May 9, 1992, when an explosion rocked the Westray coal mine in Nova Scotia.

Bruneau is one of an estimated 1,000 people in Canada who are killed on the job every year. Laws exist to prevent these accidents from happening and punish those responsible, but labour union activists say the government needs to do more to ensure that rules are enforced.

“What’s really hard in cases like these is that the person who you love has passed away, and you can’t find out what happened,” said Christian Bruneau, Olivier’s father.

Allen Martin says he gets frustrated when he hears stories like the tragedy that struck Bruneau and his family. Martin’s brother, Glenn David, was one of the 26 people who were killed on May 9, 1992, when an explosion rocked the Westray coal mine in Nova Scotia.

Labour union activists have also urged governments to improve training for investigators and prosecutors to deal with these types of cases.

“It has to be treated as a crime scene,” said Debbie Martin, who was Glenn’s sister-in-law. “You can’t let the company take control and destroy the evidence, which is what happened at Westray.”

Twenty-five years after that accident, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government says it recognizes there’s a problem and that it intends to fix it

“We will do more to ensure that labour inspectors and law enforcement officials are properly trained in the provisions of the law, and that they coordinate effectively to ensure that the possibility of a charge for criminal negligence resulting in a serious injury or death is not overlooked,” said Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a joint statement released late Thursday.

The government also pledged in its last budget to improve protection for vulnerable workers who file complaints about labour standards in order to make workplaces safer.

“We’ll make sure that employers who repeatedly violate the (Labour) Code’s requirements face consequences,” said Matt Pascuzzo, a spokesman for Minister Hajdu. “For example, employers who violate the Code’s provisions and do not come into compliance voluntarily will face monetary penalties and employers who violate the Code repeatedly could also have their names and other information published in the public domain. In the long-run, the amendments will mean fewer injuries and fatalities in the workplace and much better treatment for employees.”

“Have to start putting people in jail”

The message was timed for Friday’s National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job.

“We will promote the sharing of best practices in investigating workplace fatalities across federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions,” the statement said.

“Our government recognizes that more can and must always be done to make our workplaces safe, and to give Canadian workers confidence in the laws that exist to protect them.”

Ottawa police say they are still investigating the death of Olivier Bruneau, but they haven’t filed any charges yet.

Meantime, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has filed charges under provincial worker safety legislation against the condo developer, Claridge Homes, the construction company, Bellai Brothers, and two supervisors in connection with the tragedy. Neither company responded to requests for comment from National Observer.

Their case is scheduled to return to the Ontario Court of Justice on May 25.

Meantime, both Christian Bruneau and Allen Martin agree that authorities need to make sure that employers aren’t allowed to simply pay a small fine for an accident that could have been avoided.

“Until it becomes unprofitable to do what they’re doing, they’re going to keep doing it,” said Martin.

“And writing cheques is not a problem for them. They’re going to have to start putting people in jail.”

Bill 127, Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017 Sousa, Hon Charles Minister of Finance Current Status: First Reading Carried

Introduction By Terri Aversa
You’ve likely heard that the budget bill 127 contains proposed amendments to WSIA—ie like recognizing chronic mental stress in line with the Charter challenges, other legal cases, and all our lobbying.

However we need to look beyond the gift horse to look at some other troubling amendments being proposed within that bill.

Other amendments propose to legislatively allow WSIB to make policies about how to interpret and apply the Act, establish evidentiary requirements, and set out adjudicative principles. The WSIB’s policies are binding on the Tribunal. So these amendments would give the WSIB increased power to control the Tribunal’s decision making. Injured worker representatives are very concerned that the WSIB would use this increased policy-making power to restrict benefits both for chronic mental stress and for any other conditions. The WSIB has been on a benefit-cutting spree for several years now. Giving it more power over the Tribunal is scary …

The ombudsman complaint made by the IW community alleges that the WSIB is acting illegally and not in tandem with the WSIA. The Fink lawsuit alleges “malfeasance” of the WSIB in that it is allegedly doing things (like influencing doctor opinions) contrary to the Act. Well wouldn’t these amendments if allowed—just make its current practices within the law, ie make it LEGAL for the WSIB to have these horrible practices and adjudicative rules as part of the LAW so as to neutralize any allegations that they are outside of the law?

Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017

EXPLANATORY NOTE

The Bill implements measures contained in the 2017 Ontario Budget and enacts, amends and repeals various Acts. Included are the major elements of the Bill regarding the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Please visit http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=4778 for all elements of the Bill.

SCHEDULE 33
WORKPLACE SAFETY AND INSURANCE ACT, 1997

The Schedule makes various amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

Section 13 of the Act is amended to provide that a worker is entitled to benefits under the insurance plan for chronic or mental stress arising out of and in the course of the worker’s employment. A worker is not entitled to benefits for mental stress caused by decisions or actions of the worker’s employer relating to the worker’s employment, including a decision to change the work to be performed or the working conditions, to discipline the worker or to terminate the employment.

Section 43 of the Act, which governs payments for loss of earnings is amended. New rules that provide for the method of determining amounts payable for full and partial loss of earnings are enacted, and transitional matters are provided for.

Amendments are made to sections 46 and 48 of the Act to update the dollar amounts used to calculate compensation for a worker’s non-economic loss and death benefits payable upon the death of a worker.

Section 51 of the Act is amended to provide that certain amounts adjusted under that section are not invalid.

Section 110 of the Act, which governs the application of the pre-1997 Act in certain circumstances, is amended to provide that certain limits on the amount of a permanent partial disability supplement do not apply to the supplement as adjusted annually. The section is also amended to provide that certain reductions on amounts payable do not apply in certain circumstances.

Finally, section 159 of the Act is amended to provide the Board with the power to establish policies concerning the interpretation and application of the Act, and concerning requirements and principles to be applied when establishing entitlement to benefits.

Letter to the Editor – Suggestions to Fix a Broken WSIB

Posted: Friday, April 28, 2017 10:30 am

Open Letter to Premier Wynne in regard to the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured at Work, April 28:

I am disappointed that the only reference to future directions for the WSIB in the minister of Labour’s mandate letter is “Continue to ensure that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board provides a fair and equitable system for injured workers and employers while supporting it in its efforts to eliminate the unfunded liability by 2021-2022, and also reducing overall premiums on average.” There is no mention to protecting the health, safety and security of injured and disabled workers and their families.

Yes, the WSIB has reduced their unfunded liability by over $7 billion — but that has come at a cost borne by disabled workers and their families. Financial benefits for injured and disabled workers have been cut by billions of dollars. There are record numbers of appeals awaiting resolution at the WSIA Tribunal. Disabled workers are forced back to work too soon and close to 45 per cent of those are hurt a second or third time — increasing their permanent impairment. And in response, the WSIB denies their subsequent claim blaming it on pre-existing conditions.

Is this a fair trade-off so the WSIB can have a reserve fund of $20 billion?

Can I suggest an evidence-based approach? You mention that in the mandate letter but the WSIB refuses to collect data on the long-term consequences of work injury. Requiring the WSIB to track long-term outcomes could be the first step to creating the evidence necessary to make informed decisions about the lives of real people — those 60,000 Ontario workers who have injuries or diseases at work who must take time off to heal every year in Ontario.

When a significant portion of these workers end up permanently disabled, unemployed, losing their families and living in poverty, how does that promote economic growth and an Ontario that we can be proud of?

I have been working with independent academic researchers for the past 20 years to better understand the system put in place to support workers when they are injured or made sick on the job. The poor outcomes for far too many workers have been documented in peer-reviewed journals, and yet the WSIB management chose to ignore this evidence. Does this sound like a fair and equitable system? I think not.

So, on this National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured at Work, please help us to restore balance to the WSIB, an important piece of our social safety net in Ontario.

Steve Mantis

Thunder Bay

Hard At Work: Why mental health in the workplace is often misunderstood and stigmatized

Fear of speaking out about mental health leads to greater stigma and unsafe work cultures, experts say
 
By Alexandra Sienkiewicz CBC News, Apr. 12, 2017

Stigma surrounding mental illness in the workplace is due in part to employees feeling afraid to speak up about the issues they’re having, because they are concerned they will face repercussions, say experts.
 
Alexandra Sienkiewicz is an award-winning TV producer with over a decade of newsroom experience. She started her CBC journalism career covering national news before moving over to the fast-paced world of local. She believes every news story starts at the local level and those are the stories she most loves to tell. In her off-time, Alexandra​ dabbles in food and wine, furthering her education ​as a sommelier​.
 
In any given week, 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
 
Since CBC Toronto first reported on proposed workplace rule changes in February, hundreds of workers have reached out by email, phone and in the comment section. Many of those messages were about their fear of coming forward to an employer and speaking up.
 
Stigma surrounds mental health at work
 
That fear is “very real,” says Jeff Moat, president of Partners for Mental Health, who runs an initiative focusing on workplace mental health called Not Myself Today.
 
“There is a strong level of stigma that surrounds mental health and mental illness,” he said. “That stigma is what creates cultures that aren’t safe, where people don’t feel safe to come forward to speak to their manager about a problem they may be dealing with. They’re fearful of being shamed or being discriminated against.”
 
It’s a sentiment several City of Toronto employees echoed. They reached out to CBC Toronto after hearing the story of Victoria Muir — a city employee who says contract work and a lack of support led to her mental breakdown when she was employed as a community recreation programmer working in at-risk neighbourhoods and with refugees.
 
Victoria Muir worked for the City of Toronto in the Parks, Forestry and Recreation department for more than 10 years, before she was offered a full-time position. (CBC)
 
The employees, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity as they feared for their jobs, said they did not feel supported within the city system.
 
In response to these allegations, the City of Toronto said to CBC in an email that it “recognizes the importance of psychological health and safety in the workplace.”
 
Working in a badly paid, poorly supported or short-term job may be worse for mental health than being jobless, according to an Australian study that analyzed 7,155 people over seven years. (CBC)
 
“The City recognizes that workplace factors can contribute to psychological health. While it is understood that a certain amount of stress is inherent in work, the City aspires to a work environment where continuous improvement in work practices and processes address psychological safety and support mental health.”
 
‘Systemic bullying’ changes people’s lives
 
Muir was hired by the city in 2003 and worked in contracts that didn’t provide benefits or sick days until 2014, when she was offered a full-time position. She calls the way the city uses contract employees a form of “systemic bullying” that changes people’s lives.
 
In response, the City of Toronto said it “will not tolerate, ignore, or condone discrimination or harassment” — adding that it has comprehensive policies and procedures to address complaints and a range of dispute resolution options for “employees who believe they may have experienced discrimination or harassment.”
 
Muir, along with eight co-workers, filed a grievance in 2012 to move their type of contract into the full-time collective agreement — which would provide benefits and more support. The grievance has yet to be resolved.
 
The union that represents the workers says Muir is just one example and that they are seeing many similar cases.
 
Tim Maguire, president of CUPE Local 79, says the union is receiving more calls about mental health concerns from City of Toronto employees. (CBC)
 
“The city has been moving to a more precarious, less secure workplace … and we’re seeing in our office more calls on mental health issues … other issues associated with workload and the demands of their work, which is often about serving Toronto’s most vulnerable,” said Tim Maguire, president of CUPE Local 79, which represents approximately 20,000 City of Toronto employees.
 
The city told CBC Toronto it follows policies and collective agreement provisions when filling vacancies and works diligently to meet its obligations.
 
The city also said it is “committed to promoting mental health and psychological well-being and to actions that prevent harm to worker psychological health through appropriate policies, programs and services.”
 
A ‘new journey’ for many workplaces
 
“Many organizations, private sector companies, governments have a lot of work to do in creating more mentally healthy work environments,” said Moat. He adds that creating cultures of acceptance towards mental health is a “new journey” for workplaces.
 
Dr. Donna Ferguson, who is a clinical psychologist at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), says education is key in helping employers understand what mental and psychological illnesses mean.
 
Dr. Donna Ferguson, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), recommends seeing a doctor if an employee isn’t feeling right in the workplace. (CBC)
 
“It’s not something they can see, but it’s something you’re going to need to see,” she said, adding that it’s simple for an employer to spot someone with a cast and a broken leg, but not so simple to see someone who is depressed and understand what that means.
 
For employees, Ferguson said it’s important to recognize the signs early on. Those include:
 
■Not sleeping well.
■Not socializing as much.
■Feeling lethargic or down.
■Depressed mostly every day.
■Having frequent panic attacks.
 
If you’re exhibiting any of those signs, and they’re negatively impacting your functioning, Ferguson says it’s important to see a doctor.
 
Mental health investment leads to less absenteeism, study suggests
 
Jeff Moat, president of Partners for Mental Health, runs an initiative called Not Myself Today. The program offers workshops and activities for employers to raise awareness around mental health in the workplace. (Jeff Moat)
 
For people like Muir who did have benefits, it becomes a “vicious cycle” says Ferguson, as the worker may end up feeling more depressed and anxious.
 
“What employers need to think about in that regard, is that in the short-term perspective they’re saving money, but there are a lot of long-term impacts,” Ferguson said.
 
Moat echoes Ferguson’s sentiment and cites an Australian study that found every dollar invested in a workplace mental health action resulted in 2.3 dollars in return. That return came in the form of reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and a lower number of compensation claims.
 
 

Hard At Work: Why this city employee says years of contract work led to her mental breakdown

Victoria Muir speaks out about her experience with part-time, temporary work
By Alexandra Sienkiewicz, CBC News Posted: Apr 11, 2017 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 12, 2017 3:42 PM ET

When Victoria Muir was hired by the City of Toronto as a camp counsellor in 2003, she thought she “hit the jackpot” with a “dream job.”

Working her way up, the Queen’s University graduate landed a contract in 2006 as a community recreation programmer whose job duties included time in at-risk neighbourhoods, home visits with Syrian refugees and women fleeing abuse.

‘The culture is keep your nose to the ground — work hard and eventually you’ll get your permanent contract.’
– Victoria Muir
Muir worked full-time hours, but under the part-time collective agreement, doing something she said was her purpose in life.

She was happily married and her husband also worked for the city at the time. They bought a home in the east-end and were looking forward to having kids — but putting it off until they had more work stability and benefits.

More than a decade later, working contract after contract without benefits or sick days — Muir suffered a mental breakdown and a miscarriage within the same week.

“The culture is keep your nose to the ground,” she told CBC Toronto from her home. “Work hard and eventually you’ll get your permanent contract.”

Muir is speaking out, she says, because she doesn’t want to see any more young workers forced to endure part-time, temporary contracts. She has provided extensive documentation of her work history and her grievance process with the city, which CBC Toronto has reviewed.

‘Strong and confident’ worker

Muir says she was very good at her job and won several awards on behalf of the city for the work she did. One of Muir’s co-workers spoke to CBC Toronto under condition of anonymity and echoed this, saying Muir was passionate and an excellent worker.

“People didn’t believe I was capable of having a mental breakdown because I was so strong and so confident,” said Muir.

“I think I started showing signs of strain and stress about year four or five but didn’t understand what was happening to me,” she added. “I would be leaving meetings feeling like I was having a heart attack but I just stayed with the culture to work hard, stay quiet and not complain.”

Muir eventually did complain — along with eight other Parks, Forestry and Recreation department workers also on “Acting Assignment” or “Alternate Rate” contracts in 2012. They filed a grievance with their union in an effort to move their types of contract into the full-time collective agreement — which would provide benefits and support. They were offered an $800 settlement instead, five years after the grievance, which Muir refused.

Tim Maguire, CUPE Local 79 president, says these types of contracts are hard for the workers because they “feel like they are going to get kicked out of the job at any time.” Maguire says city hiring is supposed to be done in a fair way but it appears, based on his conversations with employees that “the city doesn’t use the fair and objective process; increasingly they use the process where they pick who they want instead of the best person.”

In response, the city told CBC Toronto that it “follows prescribed policies and collective agreement provisions when filling vacancies and works diligently to meet its obligations.”

When Muir and her co-workers raised the issue of stress with their supervisor, the solution was to bring in a public health nurse who would provide “vicarious trauma” training.

According to the American Counseling Association, vicarious trauma is the emotional residue that comes from working with people, “hearing their trauma stories and becom[ing] witnesses to the pain, fear and terror that trauma survivors have endured.”

The nurse’s advice to her was to “take your vacation days and make sure you use all your benefits,” Muir said. Muir says the nurse couldn’t understand when she told her they didn’t receive city benefits or sick days in their type of contract.

Full-time permanent position

Eleven years after starting with the City of Toronto, Muir was offered a full-time, permanent position in 2014 after going through the hiring process — which included an interview and exam.

“I believe that’s what started bringing on my mental breakdown for me,” said Muir about the hiring experience.

Muir remembers the day it happened vividly.

“I was sitting in my basement and I was thinking … ‘I got my permanency, I feel like there should be a weight lifted off my shoulders, this is everything I’ve been working for,'” she recalls.

“I literally paralyzed myself. I couldn’t move.”

She called her husband who told her she would be okay. When he came home six hours after that call, Muir was still on the floor.

Mental disorder diagnosis

When she called the city’s human resources department she was told she didn’t have access to her vacation yet, but could use her sick days. She was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Adjustment Disorder and Anxiety Disorder, of which the precipitator was workplace stress, according to her doctor. She was eventually granted long-term sick leave.

In accordance with city policy, Muir has continued to provide doctor’s notes stating she is unable to return to work, but in November 2016, her Long-Term Disability payments ended, something Muir said forced her and her husband to refinance their house.

This happened after the city asked Muir to be assessed by a third-party psychiatrist, who did not agree with the doctor who had been treating her for more than two years.

In an email to CBC Toronto, a city spokesperson said “the goal of [Long-Term Disability] benefits is to provide adequate income replacement for employees who are totally disabled” and that they have separate provisions for short-term disability and illnesses.

At the end of March, Muir received a written letter from the city stating they are not “agreeing that [she is] unable to return to work.”

“I hear again that the city doesn’t believe me that I suffer from anxiety and panic and depression,” she said about the letter. “I hear that they think I’m lying.”

One of the main issues surrounding mental health in any workplace, according to Jeff Moat, president of Partners for Mental Health, lies in treating employees with mental illnesses with a degree of respect and understanding.

“Imagine if you were to tell someone that was diagnosed with cancer that their illness isn’t real … it’s ludicrous. Yet because it’s a mental illness that’s the norm,” said Moat, whose organization launched a workplace mental health campaign called Not Myself Today five years ago.

Health forms are for physical abilities, not mental issues

The form Muir’s doctor had to fill out was created in 2004 and does not include space for mental illness or disease. The criteria is limited to physical abilities including lifting, pushing, sitting and climbing — things which won’t necessarily affect someone with depression.

Moat says any form that has a physical illness component should also include mental illness.

The city said it does “not speak to HR matters” and would not be able to speak directly about Muir’s case “due to privacy matters.”

But the city did say it is “committed to actions that prevent harm to employees’ psychological health in its policies, programs and services.”

Muir’s message to the city is a simple one — stop this type of contract.

“I’m a person, I’m not a pawn in some kind of collective agreement,” she said. “I really hope they understand that my life, my life path, my family life, my life with my husband has been changed forever.”

As an act of transparency in the context of this story, the reader should know that CBC/Radio-Canada employs contract workers in addition to full-time and part-time employees.