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Politics and workplace safety don't mix

A significant number of unions and employer organizations withdrew from the government’s Worksafe BC Review Process. Why?
Labour Minister Harry Bains introducing Labour Code changes – but not card check.

Canada Works, the Council of Progressive Canadian Unions and its members including the Christian Labour Association of Canada and the Canada West Construction Union, has decided to withdraw from further participation in government’s latest review of Worksafe BC.

The bold proclamation made by WorkSafe BC in their own mission statement says: “By partnering with workers and employers, we help British Columbians come home from work safe every day” – a worthy objective, but one that is not being met under this review process.

Canada Works members are firmly committed to worker advocacy and the highest standard of workplace safety. And Canada Works looks forward to participating in a review process that is not only inclusive but also has the confidence of all stakeholders.

On August 14, 46 business and industry associations representing thousands of employers in the Province withdrew from the Worksafe BC review. Their understandable concern is scope creep. 23 of 24 recommendations made by the NDP-appointed Reviewer 10 years ago as an author of a submission on behalf of the BC Federation of Labour, have now not-so-mysteriously found their way in to a list of “further issues for stakeholder consultation.”

The employer community can hardly be blamed for having concerns around “independence, impartiality and balance.”

Canada Works and its members will, in all likelihood, have positions on the future of Worksafe BC that will differ from the employer community. That, however, is not mutually exclusive with the high value it places on viewing the employer community as a key stakeholder and partner in creating safe and successful workplaces. As that key partner and exclusive funder of the system, the employer community simply cannot be on the outside of a comprehensive review process if that process is indeed, to use the government’s own words, intent on “increasing worker’s and employer’s confidence in the system.”

Any entrenched bias that sees employers as lacking concern for the safety and well-being of their own team needs to be re-examined.

The politicization of a review process of this nature is simply wrong and fails to serve the public interest. Reviews of any sort should be imbued with impartiality. The NDP’s resolve to move ahead with this review with a single reviewer who has displayed a significant bias presents overwhelming evidence that they either don’t care about this reality, or don’t understand.

The NDP’s violation of principles of transparency and inclusivity is rearing its head with increasing frequency. Last year’s introduction of the so-called “Community Benefits Agreements” for publicly-funded infrastructure construction serves as another case in point. The fact that all British Columbians are footing the bill for the new Pattullo Bridge, the Highway 1 Expansion east of Kamloops, and the Broadway Subway Line didn’t stop the NDP from finding a way to hand all this work – measured in the billions of dollars – to their friends in the traditional craft unions.

Every British Columbian is paying but only British Columbians who are members of one of the governments’ handpicked unions – a mere 15% of the construction workforce – can work on these projects. An industry coalition is taking the government to court on the constitutionality of their program and there has been much public backlash.

Recent examples of politicization over principle continue. Over the past year, the Labour Relations Code itself was up for review. But for Andrew Weaver standing his ground, more Draconian labour policy aimed at placating the NDP’s old-school union allies would have been introduced in the construction sector.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for the straightforward, unabashed political payback. It saves us from having to spend an ounce of energy digging for a hidden agenda.

Canada Works will continue to urge the government to engage in practices, policies and legislative change that is perceived and experienced to be both transparent and inclusive.

In the matter of reviewing Worksafe BC, it is imperative that safety and partisan politics are disentangled. We owe that, and nothing less, to the employees and to the employers of our Province.

Ken Baerg is the Executive Director of Canada Works, the Council of Progressive Canadian Unions, a collaboration of leading labour unions – large and small, active in all sectors of the economy who share a passion for advancing positive, partnership-based labour relations that fosters shared prosperity through partnership, innovation and choice.


  • It's a Ken Baerg triple shot: last week, Ken wrote about Labour Day, workers' rights, and when government gets too cozy with some unions at the expense of others.
  • Ken previously covered the NDP's Labour Code amendments.
  • Last year, Ken sat down with Rick Cluff to break down Community Benefits Agreements, from the point of a view of one of the NDP's distinctly non-chosen unions.