Bulletin – Changes to Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

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Please take a moment and read through the below Bulletin about the changes to the right to refuse unsafe work process! It is so important that each and every one of us knows our rights, and the process to follow should they be asked to do unsafe work. If you have any questions, or need help navigating through a situation, please give your Shop Steward a call. Don’t know who they are? Find them here or give Erica a call at the office between 9:30 and 1:30. After 1:30, please call Ian directly.

Right to Refuse Updates Coming August 22, 2022

Sharing this via BC Federation of Labour Health and Safety Centre.

Workers have the right to refuse work that would “create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person”. When a worker exercises this right it helps identify hazards and keep workplaces safer for all.

Starting August 2022, WorkSafeBC will be implementing amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety regulations that create an entire new section (3.12.1). This section makes important changes to the process, including what employers can and can’t do after a refusal takes place.

Starting August employers must ensure a subsequent worker is advised in writing of any unresolved work refusal made in relation to assigned work.

Reassignment of refused work

3.12.1 (1) If a worker refuses work under section 3.12, the employer must not require or permit another worker to do the refused work unless

(a) the matter has been resolved under section 3.12 (3), (4) or (5), or

(b) the employer has, in writing, advised the other worker and a person referred to in section 3.12 (4)(a), (b) or (c) of all of the following:

(i) the refusal;

(ii) the unsafe condition reported under section 3.12 (2);

(iii) the reasons why the task would not create an undue hazard to the health and safety of the other worker or any other person;

(iv) the right of the other worker under section 3.12 to refuse unsafe work.

Source: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/law-policy/discussion-papers/bod-approves-amendments-ohsr-march22/part-3?lang=en

Workplace Violence Prevention

Worksafe BC along with Partners in the Education sector, including both CUPE and BCTF, have put together a resource package on Preventing Violence in the Workplace. Do you sit on your jobsite’s Health and Safety Committee? Are you an EA who is wondering about the steps on reporting an Incident? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Ian, the office, or your District Health and Safety Reps. We are here to help!

Mandatory Vaccinations

There is a great deal of misinformation circulating not only about the science and medicine behind vaccinations, about which I am unqualified to comment, except to say that I have had both shots, but also on questions of what these policies mean for those who refuse vaccination.

To get straight to the point, the question we seem to get more than any on this topic is: “Are there grounds by which I can be exempted from being required to be vaccinated?” This question, however, should have an additional fragment added – “and remain working at the workplace where the vaccination is being mandated.” The answer, by the way, is yes, there are two, but it is unlikely that either would apply to you.

This gets me to my first point: Vaccines are required to continue working for the Employer, but that isn’t the same as being forced to take a vaccine. There is no guarantee to employment in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But all things in life are trade-offs, and risks, since we are all mortal. The Employers are not forcing you to get the vaccine, they’re forcing you, I suppose, to get vaccinated if you wish to continue working for them, since they must, by law, consider the welfare of the collective, and appropriately balance competing rights and interests.

The two grounds by which a person could be exempted from the vaccine and be accommodated are so rare, limited and will affect so few Canadians, that it’s almost not worth thinking about. They are:

  1. Medical Exemption
  2. “Creed” / religion protection under the HRC

To obtain a medical exemption, the person has to be at known risk of a severe, high-risk allergic reaction to a component of a vaccine or to inflammation of the heart. Even at that, the College of Physicians and Surgeons has stated that the exemptions will not be given to those who have relatively minor potential adverse reactions, as the risk of the virus has been judged to be worse.

The religious creed prohibited grounds in the Human Rights Code are not something workers can just suddenly claim; they have to be a member of a religion, and prove as much, which has as one of its known and communicated tenets a prohibition on vaccinations. No such religions are known to exist in Canada. Members should be careful about claiming this exemption, as the outcome may be the employer concluding that the member had attempted to fraudulently misrepresent a claim toward an accommodation, which could result in discipline.

Thus you see that the list of grounds by which exemption is possible is basically nil.

The question, then, becomes: “Can I retain my employment if I choose not to get vaccinated.” The short answer is “yes,” but it isn’t entirely clear for how long, and your leave of absence would be without pay or benefits.

Amendments to the Employment Standards Code enacted by the provincial government at the start of the pandemic limit employers from terminating employees on COVID-related leave, and we would certainly argue that this statute enables our members to take a leave of absence without pay for a strong objection to being vaccinated. The Union would do so, I should clarify, because we have a duty to represent all our members, but for clarity, we do not agree that the vaccines are unsafe, and our recommendation is for all our members to follow medical advice, which recommends vaccinations.

However, it’s not clear how long such a leave could be, given that whenever a worker chose to return to work, they would likely still be required to be vaccinated prior to their return to work.

Members are reminded that a leave of absence without pay would mean a loss of pensionable service for the period of the leave, and EHB/LTD/Group Life premiums would need to be borne fully by the member, which, if additional beneficiaries are insured on the plan, with two children and a partner is somewhere between $460 and $650 per month.

Members must also be given a cold shower with respect to their prospect of remaining employed if they continue in their resistance to the vaccine. While the Union can provide you help to arrange for a leave of absence or similar, and continue to advocate for you, we are of the view that Employers will get impatient in time and then their response will become more severe, which may include terminations from employment since Employers have an obligation both in common law and by provincial edict through OHS/WCB schemes, to provide workers with a healthy and safe work environment, let alone the obligation school districts have toward vulnerable and minor children.

I hope the above has been helpful at least in so far as it will allow members not to harbour false hope and know where they stand.

In solidarity,

Dan Todd, CUPE National Representative

Participate in the survey for CUPE’s National Safe Union Spaces Working Group

Brothers, sisters, and friends,

Earlier this year, CUPE created a National Safe Union Spaces Working Group to address serious concerns about gender-based violence and other forms of harassment and discrimination in our union.

Our Working Group, advised by expert external consultants, has been reviewing CUPE’s existing tools and processes, identifying gaps where we need changes or additional resources to ensure safer union spaces for all members.

As part of this important effort, we are launching a survey. The survey will be open for two weeks (closing September 28).

We encourage you to participate in this survey, and to share it widely in your CUPE networks, including social media. Your active participation in the distribution of this survey will be key to the project’s success.

We acknowledge that these issues are widespread. All of us must work together to change this situation. We need you to help us identify actions we can take and policies we can adopt to make CUPE more welcoming for every member.

Violence, harassment, and discrimination seriously undermine union solidarity. Until all of us are safe, none of us are safe.

In solidarity,

The National Safe Union Spaces Working Group

Judy Henley
Sherry Hillier
Lee-Anne Kalen
Yolanda McClean
Nan McFadgen
Debra Merrier
Barb Nederpel
Carole Neill
Karen Ranalletta
Candace Rennick

CUPE National Vaccine Mandate Guidelines

Please take a moment to read through CUPE National’s position on Vaccines as we head back into the schools for the 2021-2022 School Year.  Taken from CUPE National – Vaccine Mandate Guidelines

 

COVID-19 has been with us for more than 18 months now, and CUPE members across the country have been on the frontline of this pandemic from the beginning.

The pandemic has been exhausting for our members, but there is an end in sight – if enough people get vaccinated. Vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective and readily available, and uptake across the country has been strong. But with new and prevalent variants causing a fourth wave of infection across the country, we need to do better.

CUPE has always encouraged our members to get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity, for the protection of ourselves, our coworkers, and the members of the public accessing the services our members provide. Everyone who can, should get vaccinated against COVID-19.

CUPE welcomes efforts to ensure safer workplaces and increase vaccination rates. This includes increasing vaccine accessibility for workers, accommodating workers who are not yet fully vaccinated, and the small number of those who cannot be.

Governments and employers across the country are discussing vaccine mandates for our workplaces. The following principles should guide CUPE representatives and locals when dealing with workplace vaccine mandates:

  • Everyone who can get vaccinated against COVID-19 should.
  • Governments and employers need to consult with unions before finalizing and implementing vaccine policies. Locals should reach out to employers proactively and make it clear that the union expects to be consulted about any vaccine policy changes.
  • Vaccination programs are most effective when they include strong elements of education and encouragement. Locals should work with employers and public health to provide vaccine education materials or presentations.
  • Vaccines are an important part of ensuring our workplaces are safe for everyone, and CUPE has always placed a priority on our members’ health and safety. Our members have the right to be safe at work, and people have the right to receive public services in a safe environment.
  • Vaccine policies are not a replacement for personal protective equipment, proper ventilation, and thorough cleaning regimes.
  • Unvaccinated workers need to be provided with an opportunity to speak confidentially with a medical professional so they can better understand the benefits of vaccination. Employers should accommodate these appointments.
  • Vaccine policies must accommodate the small number of workers who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons protected under human rights legislation.
  • As a union, we recognize our obligation to those members who are not vaccinated.
  • Measures such as alternate work arrangements, screening, and pro-active testing before entering the workplace can be effective.
  • Harassment and shaming of workers who refuse vaccination is never appropriate.

CUPE has been receiving many questions from members concerning COVID-19 vaccines. This document addresses some of the most frequently asked questions. More information can be found here.

Staying Safe in the Heat

As the heatwave continues, please take a moment to read the press release below from WorksafeBC.  There are some great tips contained both in the press release, and the PDF fact sheets.  Stay safe and cool everyone.

WorkSafeBC reminds employers and workers how to stay safe when working outdoors 

Richmond, B.C. – With the heatwave across B.C. expected to last for the next several days, WorkSafeBC is reminding employers and outdoor workers about the risk of developing heat stress. If not recognized and treated early, heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 

“In the last three years, there have been almost 100 accepted claims for work-related injuries caused by heat stress — and these are preventable injuries,” said Barry Nakahara, Senior Manager of Prevention Field Services at WorkSafeBC. “We’re reminding workers and employers to take steps to prevent heat stress. This includes reducing exposure to the sun wherever possible, drinking lots of water, wearing the right clothes, and taking rest breaks in cool, well-ventilated areas.” 

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excess sweating, dizziness, fainting and muscle cramps. Symptoms of heat stroke include cessation of sweating, an increased breathing rate, confusion, seizures and even cardiac arrest. 

To prevent heat-stress injuries, WorkSafeBC requires employers to conduct heat stress assessments. As appropriate, employers must have a heat stress mitigation plan that provides education and training in recognizing the symptoms of heat stress and heat stroke. 

Below are some measures that employers and workers can do to prevent heat stress. 

Prevention of Heat Stress: Employers 

  • Monitor heat conditions and require workers not to work alone. 
  • Ensure there is adequate first-aid coverage and emergency procedures are in place. 
  • Make physical modifications to facilities, equipment, processes to reduce exposure. 
  • Change work practices and policies to limit the risk. 
  • Determine appropriate work-rest cycles; when a worker feels ill it may be too late. 
  • Rotate work activities or use additional workers to reduce exposure. 
  • Establish cooling areas with shade and water.

    Prevention of Heat Stress: Workers 

  • Drink plenty of water (one glass every 20 minutes). 
  • Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabric, such as cotton. 
  • Take rest breaks in a cool, well-ventilated area. 
  • Do hard physical work during the coolest parts of the day, before 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m. 
  • Know your personal risk factors, such as medications and any pre-existing conditions. 
  • Check the signs and symptoms for yourself and co-workers.

    Learn more about heat stress at worksafebc.com. Read Preventing Heat Stress at Work or watch Sun Safety at Work on WorkSafeBC’s YouTube channel. 

    About WorkSafeBC 

    WorkSafeBC engages workers and employers to prevent injury, disease, and disability in B.C. When work-related injuries or diseases occur, WorkSafeBC provides compensation and support to people in their recovery, rehabilitation, and safe return to work. We serve approximately 2.3 million workers and 255,000 employers across B.C. 


For more information, contact

Media Relations, WorkSafeBC
Email: media@worksafebc.com