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Unions Challenged on Health and Safety

Unions Challenged on Health and Safety

Worker health and safety needed to be a top priority of any union and should be a focus in collective bargaining, delegates to the Council of Trade Unions Biennial Conference in Wellington were told today.

The conference opened this morning with a speech by the Minister of Labour, Margaret Wilson, about the Health and Safety in Employment Act and the areas in which the Government is reviewing the Employment Relations Act.

Later, Cathy Walker, the national health and safety director of the Canadian Auto Workers Union – the largest private sector union in Canada – told the conference that international research shows that workplaces with active union involvement are safer workplaces.

“No matter how successful a union may be at the bargaining table in negotiating excellent wages, benefits and pensions, they will all come to nought if workers are not alive long enough to reap the benefits,” said Cathy Walker. “The same is true for workers who, due to illness or injury are not able to continue at work.”

The reality of workplaces with no union involvement is that wages are usually quite low, and employers sometimes scrimp on health and safety provisions as well, she said.

Cathy Walker said the system of workplace health and safety representatives required by the Health and Safety in Employment Act, which came into force this year, was vital in reducing accidents at work.

“We’ve had this system across Canada since 1980,” she said. “We see strong, effective union health and safety representatives as being absolutely critical to keeping the membership safe and healthy.”

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