Canada’s labour ministers discuss workplace challenges – and how to address them

'Governments get more done when we work together. That's what businesses and workers expect'

Canada’s labour ministers discuss workplace challenges – and how to address them

Federal, provincial and territorial labour ministers came together recently to discuss the challenges Canadian workplaces face today – and to commit to addressing these issues.

"Governments get more done when we work together. That's what businesses and workers expect, and that's what happened here today,” said Seamus O'Regan Jr., federal minister of labour and seniors.

For one, the ministers discussed harmonization efforts related to occupational health and safety (OHS), including OHS protections and labour standards for workers in gig work and other non-standard employment circumstances.

"This emerging industry requires governments to consider how labour standards can address the reality faced by these workers,” said Employment and Social Development Canada.

According to one expert in the field, a sector-wide unionization of gig workers could be a possibility.

Safety considerations for a diverse workforce

The ministers also listened as the Canadian Standards Association and the BC Building Trades gave presentations on the challenges workers face with personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace, including ill-fitting PPE especially for women. These challenges present serious dangers on worksites and barriers to the inclusion of women in the trades and other sectors, according to the federal government.

PPE isn’t being made specifically for women in Canadian workplaces, and it’s creating safety risks, according to a previous report from the CSA Group.

The ministers agreed to do more work in this area, including raising the issue with PPE manufacturers, employers and labour in their respective jurisdictions, and convening a meeting on the issue.

Labour disputes and replacement workers

The ministers also spoke about labour dispute provisions, appropriate essential service levels during a strike or lockout, and the issue of replacement workers, while sharing their experiences and best practices regarding conflict resolution.

O'Regan shared with the other ministers details of the report he received from industrial relations experts recommending terms of reference for the government's forthcoming review of longshore disputes at ports. 

The ministers discussed how they can work together to ensure that Canada continues to be a reliable trading partner to the world.

"Working people across Canada are entitled to fair working conditions. We rely on our labour laws, employment standards and the workers' compensation systems to ensure appropriate rules are in place,” said Harry Bains, minister of labour for British Columbia.

“The labour ministers' meeting was a chance to compare best practices and discuss ways to keep up with the needs of our changing workplaces."

In March, the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party (NSNDP) tabled legislation to ban the use of scab workers in the province during a legal workers’ strike or lockout.

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