Funding cuts to the office tasked with preventing workplace deaths and plans to “modernize” health and safety provisions in the province will make workers less safe on the job, opposition critics argued at Queen’s Park Tuesday.
“No one person should go to work in the province of Ontario and not know if they’re coming home at the end of the day to their families,” said NDP labour critic Wayne Gates during question period.
“What exactly is the value of a life of a worker to this government?”
It comes as the Ministry of Labour’s prevention office, which is tasked with preventing workplace injury, illness and death in the province faces $16 million in cuts this year, despite the fact the body is not taxpayer funded and does not impact the government’s bottom line.
The office’s costs are covered by reimbursements from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
An extra $512,000 will be dedicated to health and safety enforcement this year, Labour Minister Laurie Scott said Tuesday.
“We had important decisions to make putting people as a priority. We have looked at health and safety programs. We have worked with the partners that deliver these health and safety programs. There are other avenues of revenue for them to provide the programs, but we have, as I said, again, increased our enforcement budget by half a million dollars,” she said.
The bulk of the cuts will impact research projects on issues like occupational disease, as well as the province’s independent health and safety associations, which provide ministry-approved training and support to workplaces across Ontario.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Labour announced plans to reform training for workplace joint health and safety committees by allowing some of it to be completed online to “reduce the burden on business while maintaining standardized high-quality training accessible to all workers across Ontario.”
“Slashing funding designed to protect workers, forcing training sessions online and creating unaccountable classes will make workers less safe,” Gates said.
Scott called “modernizing health and safety programs” a positive.
“We have the priority of the workers in mind in health and safety,” she said.
But Chris Buckley, head of the Ontario Federation of Labour, called the funding cuts “alarming.”
“(Doug Ford) professes to be there for the little guy, he professes to be there for the people,” he said. “He’s got a very odd way of showing it.”
Rob Ellis became a health and safety advocate after his son David was killed in a bakery on his second day on the job. His organization, MySafeWork, has provided workplace safety education to hundreds of thousands of students across the province.
Ellis told the Star he recently learned he will no longer receive government funding for his program.
“This is concerning because we’re not told why these cutbacks are taking place and what will replace them,” he said. “So I’m really concerned about youth going out to work. I’m really concerned about our newcomers who we desperately need to fill in our trades.”
“We’re definitely continuing. We have schools contacting us directly,” he added. “We’re still excited about saving lives. But we’re disappointed that the Ontario government doesn’t feel it’s an important part of remaining competitive.”
With files from Robert Benzie
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour-related issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz