Canada: Occupational Health & Safety, Labour Standards And Pay Equity: Major Changes Coming

During its last budget speech, the Quebec government signalled its intention to shortly table a bill to reorganize various labour boards, with the changes to take effect on January 1st, 2016.

This initiative will involve the consolidation into one entity, to be called the Commission des droits et de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, of the Current Pay-Equity Board (Commission sur l'équité salariale), Labour Standards Board (Commission des normes du travail) and the CSST, the Occupational Health and Safety Board (Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail).

These are major changes, as the CSST, which was originally called the Commission des accidents de travail, has existed autonomously since 1928. Its board of directors has joint labour/management representation, its members appointed by both employer and union associations, whereas the pay-equity board and the labour standards board have quite different boards of directors. On the administrative level, the roles of each of these entities are also very different, as the CSST is a quasi insurer with a prevention mandate, while the two others play a more direct role in furthering the intent of the legislature, namely ensuring equal treatment of female and male workers, and that basic labour standards are respected.

The personnel of these three entities are moreover very specialized, and it will be important to ensure that that degree of specialization is retained. For example, a rehabilitation worker at the CSST performs an entirely different function than a pay-equity analyst. On the funding level, the CSST is financed exclusively by employers, and its compensation fund amounting to several billion dollars deposited with the Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec, belongs to the employers, and not to the government.

While the idea of consolidating these entities seems prima facie to be sound policy, it is far from certain that the desired results will be achieved in practice. Only time will tell.

The budget speech also announced the consolidation of the Labour Relations Board (Commission des relations de travail) with the Occupational Illness and Injuries Board (Commission des lésions professionnelles) into a single entity to be called the Tribunal administratif en matière de travail. This in a way is a partial revival of a bill to consolidate administrative tribunals tabled in the early 2000s by then Justice Minister Marc Bellemare, which died on the order paper. Several studies at the time concluded that it would be preferable to consolidate all administrative tribunals under one roof, particularly in order to harmonize the various rules of procedure and evidence.

It appears that the proposed reform will do away with joint labour/management representation on the board of the occupational illness and injuries board. 

On another note, the CSST has just released its financial statements for 2014. The capitalization level of its indemnity fund is at 104.5%, meaning that the CSST has $1.04 for every dollar of exposure. Its financial situation is thus excellent.

On still another note, on March 17th, 2015, the Minister of labour, employment and social solidarity, Mr. Sam Hamad, asked the chair of the consultative committee on labour and employment matters to submit to him, by June 30th, 2015, on the basis of a 2011 report prepared jointly by employers, unions and the CSST (the Camiré Report) recommendations and proposals for legislative amendments aimed at modernizing the health and occupational safety regime. To be continued ...

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