The line-by-line spending in the government estimates recently made public show a 13.5% budget cut ($16 million) to the Ministry of Labour’s Prevention Office charged with a mandate to improve workplace safety. Advocates note it makes no sense.
While the Ministry spokesperson says the cutbacks follow a review to ensure all valuable programs are sustainable, costs for the Prevention Office and occupational health and safety are reimbursed by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (in 2018, these amounted to $217 million). In short, the Office is not funded by the general public, so “cuts will not affect the provincial deficit.” Despite concerns by workers and advocates over the WSIB’s cuts of almost 30% last September to the employer premium rates which fund workers’ compensation, chair Elizabeth Witmer stated her confidence that the Board’s financial position “safeguards Ontario’s workplace health and safety system.”
As detailed in the Toronto Star article, the cuts to the Prevention Office will mainly impact “research projects on issues like occupational disease (responsible for two thirds of the province’s 228 workplace deaths in 2018), as well as the province’s independent health and safety associations, which provide ministry-approved training and support to workplaces across Ontario.”
Announced changes that would weaken Ontario’s occupational health and safety system continue to draw strong criticism. In the words of a speaker at the North Bay Day of Mourning event, “We need to continue to ensure that our elected officials put health and safety at the forefront, and not consider it red tape… “ Among concerns:
- the reduction of basic health and safety certification training from the current standard of three days of in-class training to a one-day online course
- plans to “modernize and streamline” enforcement through a plan for employer self-education on their workplace obligations and self-regulation regarding employment standards
- funding cuts to the Ministry’s Enforcement Branch that will limit proactive site visits by Ministry inspectors to identify and fix safety violations
- continued lack of protection from reprisals against exercising their occupational health and safety rights
This month industry stakeholders and contractor associations also raised concerns that health and safety requirements could be eased following policy changes to the Infrastructure Ontario procurement process for public-private partnership projects.
Recent developments underscore the need to strengthen the province’s health and safety regime. On April 15 the Ministry opened a month-long Consultation on Ontario’s next occupational health and safety strategy. The government is asking for your feedback “to help protect workers’ health and safety on the job, while making it easier for businesses to grow and prosper across Ontario.” Take the survey to let them know where you stand on OH&S priorities (deadline: May 15)
- Mojtehedzadeh, Sara. May 11, 2019. “Cutting $16 Million From Ontario Office That Prevents Workplace Deaths Makes ‘No Sense,’ Advocates Say.” Toronto Star
- Killham, Dave. 2019 April 26. “Safe and Healthy Work … Insist On It.” Workers Health and Safety Centre News.
- King, Andrew et al. 2019 April. The Reality of Workers’ Voice in Health and Safety: Summary. Hamilton: McMaster University, Labour OHCOW Academic Research Collaboration. [full report]