Canada Labour Code amendments that redefine dangerous work would not put workers at greater risk, says MP Cathy McLeod.
That's not at all how organized labour sees it, though.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Labour Congress have said that the changes, included in Bill C-4, the Budget Implementation Act, will undermine workplace safety. They want that section of the omnibus bill withdrawn.
As parliamentary secretary to Minister of Labour Kellie Leitch, McLeod defended the changes during debate in the House earlier this week.
She pointed to the fact that no danger was found in 80 per cent of the refusal-to-work cases over the past 10 years, even after appeals.
"I think it is an absolutely phenomenal number and it speaks to the fact that the system, as it currently exists, is not working …," she said.
Health and occupational safety officers who work in federally regulated industries - which include railway, airline and interprovincial bus drivers as well as the civil service - should focus on prevention and the 20 per cent of cases where danger exists, McLeod said.
"The right to refuse dangerous work remains," she said after returning to Kamloops. "There is no change to that."
The amendment alters the legal definition of dangerous work, currently defined as "any existing or potential hazard or condition or any current or future activity that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness to a person … whether or not the injury or illness occurs immediately after the exposure to the hazard." Reproductive system damage is also recognized.
The proposed definition strips away mention of the reproductive system and pares down the definition of dangerous as "an imminent or serious threat to the life or health of a person."
It's wrong to suggest that, because a majority of cases were determined to present no danger, workers should not have refused the work, say local labour representatives
"They raise the flag," said Peter Kerek, president of Kamloops and District Labour Council. "A lot of it is miscommunication or lack of communication on the part of the employer.
"I don't think it's the fault of the worker to be cautious," he added. "We're always told it's safety first on the work site. We're told this everywhere we go."
Bob Mitchell, president of CUPW Local 758, considers the change as an outrageous move contrary to the interests of health and safety. The union feels the changes will lead to more disciplinary action against workers who raise safety issues.
"I think it shows callous disregard the Conservatives have for workers," he said.
"They stick it in the budget bill because to defeat it would be to defeat the government. It's a scummy tactic, in my opinion, for something this important when they're dealing with lives."
Very few workers invoke the right to refuse work and it's not used frivolously because to do so would debase the health and safety process, he said. He knows of only a dozen cases in his 37 years with the post office.
Experience has shown that workers are especially vulnerable because they're more hesitant to refuse work, Mitchell said.