Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
Efforts of whistleblowers in the Saskatchewan Government will be buoyed by new protections from reprisal, as long as they follow procedures.
The ‘Public Interest Disclosure Act’ took effect September 1, 2011 and creates a system for employees of any provincial ministry to report wrongdoing by submitting a confidential disclosure form to a designated officer within the ministry or to the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner.
The act, first announced in November 2010, applies to employees at all levels of provincial ministries, Crown and Treasury Board Crown corporations, and a large number of additional government boards and agencies.
“I believe this takes the politics out of any type of belief that there could be a wrongdoing,” says June Droud, Minister responsible for Saskatchewan’s Public Service Commission. “This is just one more way to make sure government is accountable and people are doing what they are paid to do.”
Michael Tochor, a lawyer at McPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP in Regina, says the new law removes much of the uncertainty that existed in whistleblower protections under the Labour Standards Act. (LSA) Having a clearly defined person to report to reduces the chance of a complaint being thrown out because it was made to the wrong person, Tochor says.
“There were some issues before in the case law as to who was and who wasn’t an appropriate person of authority,” he says. “This legislation sought to clarify that, and give a little more teeth to it, in terms of the power that the Commissioner and the designated officers have.”
Under the new whistleblower act, the Public Service Commission will report annually to the legislative assembly the number of complaints received. If the commission acts as on a complaint, the report will include both a description of the complaint and the actions taken.
The law very tightly defines what issues can be brought forward, Tochor says. “Only incidence of gross mismanagement or substantial specific danger to the environment or person’s health or safety will be investigated,” he adds.
If a government employee chooses to voice his or her concerns publicly or to an opposition MLA, they will still be covered under the LSA, but will forfeit their protections under the new law.
In Ontario, section 50 of the OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Act) covers protection for any employee under three different issues:
“No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall,
Dismiss or threaten to dismiss a worker;
Discipline or suspend or threaten to discipline or suspend a worker;
Impose any penalty upon a worker; or Intimidate or coerce a worker,
because the worker has acted in compliance with this Act or the regulations or an order made thereunder, has sought the enforcement of this Act or the regulations or has given evidence in a proceeding in respect of the enforcement of this Act or the regulations or in an inquest under the Coroners Act.”
I do not believe that a separate piece of legislation has been enacted to cover provincial employees only. Section 50 covers all workers in Ontario, outside of those under federal jurisdiction, and can be used at any time.
As a trainer of Basic Certification, Level 1, it is becoming apparent that most people, at least in Ontario, do not believe section 50 can truly protect them. During BCT 1, I do everything I can to emphasize to the certified worker rep. that it is his/her responsibility to ensure that all employees’ voices are heard, their safety and rights protected.
Recently, I received word from one of my former trainees that they received little help from the local MOL representative. Their training allowed them to consider options and they went to a higher level in the ministry and received favourable responses which took care of the negative issues locally.
In other words, the intent of the law is to protect the worker. You have many rights. Ensure that you know them all and asked the Ministry of Labour for their help and protection. There are there to support and defend you.
Remember – In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.