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Union fears Transport Canada lay-offs compromise workers' safety

By Mari-Len De Guzman

The Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE) is criticizing Transport Canada’s latest decision to lay off some 157 employees, including a number of health and safety personnel, saying this move will be detrimental to the safety of workers and the travelling public.

UCTE said of the positions being affected by the lay-offs, 107 will be eliminated including all regional health and safety advisors. These advisors were only recently hired to help bring Transport Canada into compliance with federal health and safety legislation, the union said.

“For the last 10 years, the union has been trying to get Transport Canada to be in compliance with federal regulations on occupational health and safety,” Christine Collins, national president of UCTE said. “Now they are eliminating the very people that are tasked with this critical work. These cuts show how little Transport Canada cares for the people who work for them or the health and safety of its employees.”

In an e-mail to Canadian Occupational Safety, Transport Canada said it is reorganizing the work and service delivery model for its human resources function.

“As part of these changes, the delivery of occupational health and safety program (OHS) will be streamlined,” Transport Canada said.

While there will be no changes to Transport Canada’s occupational health and safety programs, the functions under OHS will be provided by managers and human resources advisors “with the guidance of OHS committees at NHQ (national headquarters) and in the regions.”

“Transport Canada takes the health and safety of its employees very seriously, and remains committed to ensuring full compliance under the Canada Labour Code, Part II,” the agency told COS magazine.

In complying with the Canada Labour Code, Transport Canada said it has established a national policy health and safety committee, six regional committees on health and safety, and more than 106 workplaces with health and safety committees or representatives.

But Collins is not convinced transferring the health and safety advisors’ functions to the regional managers and HR advisors is going to help Transport Canada’s health and safety performance and compliance.

“The concern that I have, ofcourse, is that the regional managers are not trained and they are the ones who depend heavily on the OHS advisors in all five regions,” she said. “The HR advisors are the people that advise on staffing, on grievances, on compensation, on pay and benefit… so they are transferring (OHS functions) over to people who are not trained, who are not experts.”

The five regional health and safety advisors are among those in the chopping block in the latest round of lay-offs at Transport Canada.

Collins said the union lobbied heavily to create these regional health and safety advisor positions at Transport Canada. “(These positions) are fairly new,” said Collins. “Since they were implemented we have seen some improvements especially regarding the required training under part two of the Code.”

The union president said the regional health and safety advisors would have helped bring Transport Canada into compliance with the Labour Code, particularly with regards to health and safety training, inspections and putting in place a comprehensive health and safety management system.

Also among workers who received notices this week were technical inspectors responsible for marine safety and security, as well as civil aviation airworthiness inspector, the UCTE said. 

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of the travelling public. Once again, inspectors in marine safety and security as well as civil aviation are being chipped away at a time when we both know there are not enough inspectors to do the work,” said Collins.

When asked to comment, the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities emphasized the government’s plan to keep “taxes and debt low while returning to a balance budget.”

“Over the past year the government has found fair, balanced and moderate savings measures to reduce the deficit,” according to Vanessa Schneider, director of communications for the office of Denis Lebel, minister of transport, infrastructure and communities. “Overall, the savings the government has found represent less than two per cent of program spending and less than 0.3 per cent of the economy. In fact, over 70 per cent of the savings found are in operational efficiencies.”

Schneider noted Transport Canada has found ways to be more efficient and streamlined, while staying focused on its core activities.

“At Transport Canada, safety and security will not be compromised,” she said.

Collins said she has begun gathering information from the health and safety representatives at Transport Canada’s regional locations “compiling a report of all the violations that we are aware of.”

“I will be calling in HRSDC (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada). I will be calling in a labour officer if I need to because this is absolutely not acceptable.

“We had both sides agreed that the employer had to work towards becoming compliant with the legislation and so these (OHS regional advisor) positions were created. We started seeing an improvement. Had we not seen improvements in the region, then I may not be saying the same thing,” said Collins.

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