Statement of Principles: Health and Safety
Our Right to a Safe and Healthy Workplace
Workers have the fundamental right as human beings to work in a workplace free from harm. Even more we have the right to health, the highest state of physical, mental and social well being.
In our society it is the employers who control where we work, if we work, how we work, and whether our work is healthy or hazardous. As we grapple with problems such as repetitve strain injuries, back injuries, boredom, monotony and stress among our members we confront many issues which employers see as their prerogative, as "management's rights": the choice of materials; chemicals; processes; the pace of production; harassment by supervision; shift work; excessive overtime; work cycle times; and the entire design and power structure of the workplace and production systems.
We need to shift the balance of power away from the employers and towards workers. We risk our lives, our limbs, and our health in the workplace. By contrast, the employers' only risk is profit.
Change the Power Relations: Our Workplace Base
- The union health and safety committees must develop their own agenda for health and safety improvements before meeting with management as the joint committee.
- Joint union-management health and safety committees must have the power to make decisions, not simply to make recommendations to management. Worker majorities are needed on the joint committees to ensure that the health and safety needs of our members are addressed.
- Our health and safety representatives must have the power to shut down unsafe equipment to ensure that our members are protected.
- We need to expand the scope of issues discussed by the joint health and safety committees. Ergonomics, the practice of fitting the workplace to the worker rather than the worker to the workplace, has begun to expand our horizons.
- Effective laws must be vigorously enforced so that unorganized workers are also protected.
Three RightsIn our Canadian occupational health and safety laws, three rights are emphasized:
- The right to know about hazards of the workplace, especially chemical hazards;
- The right to participate in health and safety activities, especially joint worker-management health and safety committees;
- The right to refuse hazardous work.
Workers demanded these rights through workplace struggles, strikes, and lobbying governments. We won these rights through the leadership of the New Democratic Party Government in the Province of Saskatchewan in 1972. Since then these rights have spread throughout the nation. These rights must be strengthened.
Health and Safety: Envrionment with a fence around it
We must challenge management's claimed prerogative over production and insist that toxic substances used or produced in the workplace be replaced by substances which are less harmful to the workforce and to the environment. We need to protect the health of our members and our families who live in our communities as well as the planet as a whole.
Our rights must be expanded to include:
Community rights to know about workplace emissions;
Environmental issues in joint union-management committees
either as separate joint environment committees, or as an expanded role
for the joint health, safety and environment committee; and
Our right as workers to refuse to pollute.
For both health and safety and environmental issues we must share our experiences as well as learn from workers and trade unions in other countries.