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On December 9, 2020, the last day of the Alberta legislature’s fall sitting, the UCP ran the legislature until 3 o’clock in the morning and used its majority powers to shut down debate. That night, the UCP passed Bill 47 into law.
The bill—deceptively named the Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act—is a full-frontal attack on workplace safety. We’ve been receiving a lot of questions about what we can expect to happen. If you have any further questions, then don’t hesitate to reach out to AUPE’s Member Resource Centre at 1-800-232-7284, which is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
When does Bill 47 take effect?
This bill makes significant changes to two laws: the Occupational Health & Safety Act, and the Workers’ Compensation Act. Some changes to Workers’ Compensation will take effect on January 1, 2021, and changes to OH&S will come into effect on September 1, 2021. Some changes to the Fair Practices Office, and the Medical Panels office, will take effect on April 1, 2021.
Was AUPE consulted about Bill 47?
AUPE is in favour of regular revisions of workplace safety legislation, because we want to ensure that workplaces remain as safe as possible. We made submissions to the government consultations to reform both the OH&S Act and the Workers Compensation Act.
In our submission on the OH&S Act, we argued that the government should maintain and strengthen changes made in 2017, which improved worksite health and safety. In our submission on the Workers Compensation Act, we listed 37 recommendations over nine areas. Our recommendations focused on strengthening the benefits for injured workers and ensuring that injured workers and their families have access to resources they need.
The UCP went in the opposite direction for all the changes that they are proposing with Bill 47.
What does Bill 47 Mean for Joint Health & Safety Committees?
If your workplace has more than 20 employees, the law requires a Joint Health and Safety Committee. The previous NDP government passed this requirement in 2018. Alberta was the last province in Canada to require JHSCs. As their name implies, JHSCs are committees which include members who are workers as well as employers to ensure that the workplace is as safe as possible.
Because of Bill 47, the employer is likely to dominate these committees, and eliminates mandatory health and safety committees entirely on worksites with multiple employers. Staff previously elected their representative on the JHSC, now, where they still exist, the employer will appoint the worker-representatives—allowing management to pick and choose which workers they believe are most likely to make decisions in line with employers' interests.
Bill 47 also removes requirements for the structures of JHSCs, such as a minimum quorum, meeting schedule, and so on—allowing the employer to structure the committee without restraint. The new law removes the requirement that JHSCs run regularly scheduled inspections of the worksite and removes all legal power from JHSCs other than hearing concerns from workers.
Bill 47 will make JHSCs a shell without any real power to ensure safety on the workplace. It will make the committees employer-dominated and remove their power to fix workplace hazards.
If I’m injured at work, is the employer still required to re-hire me?
No. Bill 47 has removed the requirement that employers re-hire workers who were injured at work after they have recovered. It also adds new requirements for workers to participate in rehabilitation programs, or the government will cut their benefits. If your collective agreement includes provisions that require reinstatement, then this change may not affect you.
If your employer refuses to re-hire you after a workplace injury, you can still file a complaint at the Human Rights Commission. Contact your Membership Services Officer if you need assistance or would like to know about how your collective agreement may protect you.
Does Bill 47 affect my benefits if I am injured at work?
Yes. Along with repealing the requirement to re-hire injured workers, Bill 47 also repeals the requirement that employers continue to pay workers’ benefits. Your employer can now cut off your benefits if you are injured at work. This section of Bill 47 comes into effect on April 1, 2021.
What does Bill 47 mean for my right to refuse unsafe work?
Previously, if a worker refused unsafe work, the employer was banned from responding in a way that is “discriminatory.” Now, the employer is only limited to not imposing “disciplinary” measures on the worker. In other words, the employer may now be legally allowed to retaliate if that retaliation is not formal discipline.
Bill 47 also significantly reduces the scope of what is defined as “unsafe work.” under the OH&S Act. Before Bill 47, workers could refuse work based on “dangerous conditions” or “danger.” Bill 47 replaces that language with “undue hazard.” It also specifies that danger must be “immediate,” meaning that workplace dangers which take a longer time to cause injury are likely no longer considered grounds for refusal. This may affect workers’ ability to refuse unsafe work due to COVID-19, because that danger does not appear immediately.
Regardless of these changes, we always recommend that workers continue to file complaints against their employers if they believe they are facing any type of retaliation for refusing unsafe work. Contact your Membership Services Officer if you believe that your employer is retaliating against you.
Does Bill 47 affect my level of compensation for workplace injuries?
Bill 47 will almost certainly reduce the amount of compensation you receive for workplace injuries. Before Bill 47, the Workers Compensation Board was required to pay 90 per cent of income lost due to injury. Bill 47 changes that rule and allows Board members to choose the level of compensation. The Bill also allows the Board to impose a “ceiling,” or maximum level of compensation, which was not the case in the previous version of the legislation.
Bill 47 also removes the requirement that the Board automatically adjust compensation to inflation based on the Consumer Price Index—a measure that ensured benefits for workers with long-term injuries kept up with the rising cost of living. Bill 47 makes that adjustment no longer automatic.
Can I still appeal a WCB decision if I disagree with the results?
You can still appeal decisions from the WCB, but the government has now cut your timeline to make appeals in half. Bill 47 reduces the amount of time to launch an appeal from two years to one year. This section of Bill 47 comes into effect on April 1.
How long will this law be in effect for?
Bill 47 increases the amount of time between scheduled reviews of the Workers Compensation Act and the OH&S Act from five years to 10 years. This means that, unless the government decides to reform the law in the meantime, the government of Alberta is only required to review the law in 10 years.
What can I do about this?
We’re fighting Bill 47, like we’re fighting the entire disastrous UCP agenda. Reach out to your local chair to learn how you can join in the fight. In the meantime, you can also:
1. Use this link to voice concerns about WCB policy changes. https://www.wcb.ab.ca/about-wcb/whats-new/legislative-changes.html
2. Emailing Jane Sustrik (UNA) and Mike Boyle (HSAA), the worker representatives on the WCB Board of Directors. To contact these and other WCB board members, email Leslie Henkel, Board of Directors Secretariat, Leslie.firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the subject line include name of the worker representatives plus the words: Personal and Confidential.
3. You can also send a letter to the same WCB board members to:
WCB, PO Box 2415, Edmonton, AB, T5J 2S5