Labour review: Workers' health at stake

News Category: 
Publication date: 
Wed, 2012-08-01

Labour review: Workers' health at stake
By Rosalee Longmoore,
The Leader-Post July 31, 2012

The sweeping review of 15 pieces of labour legislation by the Government of Saskatchewan raises more questions and concerns than meet the eye. Strong labour legislation is a crucial component to addressing the underlying health of society.

Saskatchewan's labour laws have played a pivotal role in the province's economic prosperity and are based upon fair and equitable rights for all workers, whether unionized or not. These laws have been created to regulate both the conditions of employment and the relations between employers and employees in order to facilitate healthy workplaces and work-life balances for the people of this province.

As registered nurses and frontline health-care providers, members of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) have a unique insight into the social determinants of health and their relationship to safe, well-regulated work environments.

There are always underlying causes to health conditions that manifest themselves in clinical settings and as holistic-care providers, registered nurses are constantly looking beyond the physical in order to establish the root cause of the illness.

The provision of accessible, adequate medical care is but one measure of health, arguably more important is the environment that individuals experience on a daily basis. As a result, the determinants of health as they relate to the workplace are of great interest and should be a priority focus in any review of legislation intended to improve conditions for Saskatchewan citizens.

Addressing the connection between poor employment conditions and poor health is the purpose of many pieces of legislation being reviewed as a part of this consultation. The Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Labour Standards Act and the Trade Union Act are intended to reduce the number of dangerous jobs, eliminate and regulate exposure to harmful substances, as well as manage the demanding and stressful nature of some jobs by setting base hours of work and reducing the arbitrary use of power by employers in the workplace.

In short, these acts foster healthy work environments and serve to limit workplace injuries that result in a drain on the health-care system.

Increased job strain due to a combination of demanding employment and low income, as well as other workplace stresses, have been linked to increased workers compensationrelated injuries and medical ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, mental health disorders such as depression and highrisk lifestyle choices such as smoking and alcohol consumption. The reality of these increased health risks is an increase in use of health services in the province.

Research has shown that employment-related stress can arise from many sources, including job insecurity, the physical demands of work, the extent of support from supervisors and co-workers, worklife conflict, and job strain. In 2000, Statistics Canada found that over one-third of Canadian workers (35 per cent) identified employment-related stress as a result of "too many demands or too many hours." This represents an increase of nearly 10 per cent since 1991, when the number was 27.5 per cent. Saskatchewan's labour legislation has evolved over a span of decades to protect workers from such undue stress and has been fundamental to building a strong and prosperous province that is indeed a good place to work.

Appropriate consideration was clearly not given to concerns for the health and well-being of the province's working population and future generations to come with the instigation of this review. Many of the changes being contemplated threaten to deregulate workplace conditions for all workers of Saskatchewan, jeopardizing occupational health and safety and basic worker rights.

This review process must be fully inclusive and rely on evidence-based research. This will take both time and thoughtful deliberation - both of which have not been adequately provided for in this case.

Longmoore is president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses. Today (July 31), is the last day for public input on the province's labour review consultation paper.