Stefanson government gets a D on workplace health, safety

Premier Heather Stefanson’s government received a barely passing letter grade — ‘D’ — from the Manitoba Federation of Labour on workplace health and safety.

The group, which represents 40 unions and 125,000 workers, issued its health and safety report card Tuesday.

“There’s been a global pandemic, and government has not stepped up. If anything, they’ve stepped back from making health and safety a priority for Manitobans,” said Kevin Rebeck, the Manitoba Federation of Labour’s president.

The federation’s last report card came out in 2019, when Brian Pallister led the province. Then, it issued an overall ‘C-‘.

Both Pallister’s and Stefanson’s government’s approach to workplace health and safety has weakened the system, the federation claims.

Manitobans report around 28,000 workplace injuries and 25 deaths annually, according to the federation.

“(The Pallister government) became the government that didn’t listen to anyone,” Rebeck said. “The government under Stefanson has the opportunity to reverse that.”

The federation is calling for provincially legislated paid sick days.

“I think the global pandemic has really shown us all that having the ability to stay home when you’re sick isn’t just about the person who’s sick,” Rebeck said. “It’s about protecting others too and keeping your workforce safe.”

Psychological injuries in the workplace are a “growing area of concern,” Rebeck noted, adding more needs to be done to invest in community supports.

The federation wants a body like the Minister’s Advisory Council on Workplace Safety and Health. The Progressive Conservatives cut the committee in 2017.

The report card highlights a drop in Workplace Safety and Health inspections. There were more than 14,000 inspections in 2013-14. The number drops to roughly 6,000 in 2020-21.

“There’s many (companies) that haven’t been looked at for years,” Rebeck said. “That’s not right, as we need enough workers out there to do their job.”

Meanwhile, the number of severe injuries from worksites has increased. Less than 2,500 severe injuries were reported in 2019. In 2021, there were 3,512 reports.

Rebeck said he was “at a loss” on reasons for the spike but noted such injuries have increased while inspections are down.

There are around 44 inspectors, Rebeck said. A bump to the mid-50s or 60s is ideal, he added.

The federation’s 20-page report card grades the Stefanson government on workplace health and safety laws, enforcement, prevention and Manitoba’s workers compensation system. The PCs received letter grades of D, D, C+ and C-, respectively.

“We’ve had to fight for personal protective equipment, we’ve had to fight employers in the public sector and this government on many fronts while they’ve reduced the staff levels in our health and safety area,” Rebeck said.

Labour Minister Reg Helwer was not made available for an interview Tuesday. He did not respond to Free Press questions by print deadline.

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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