In the Yukon, nearly 150 young workers get injured on the job every year.
And according to Yukon Federation of Labour President Alex Furlong, a new code of practice isn’t going to do much to change that.
The Yukon Worker’s Compensation Health and Safety Board plans to implement its new code of practice in the New Year.
The code recognizes that young and inexperienced workers are at greater risk of injury and explains the minimum orientation, training and supervisory requirements that they should receive from their employers.
Furlong supports the code of practice, but would like to see something with more legislative teeth.
“A code of practice is good but it’s just that, a code of practice,” said Furlong.
“Without legislation that compels employers and employees to behave a certain way, it’s not going to work.”
There are some responsible employers in this territory, but there are also some employers that are not so responsible, said Furlong.
And the same goes for employees – some are very vigilant about health and safety and others don’t care at all.
“The government, the minister and the president and CEO should be saying, ‘You know what, we need to work at a quicker pace, rather than sugar coating, by putting out a code of practice, which is what they’re doing here.’”
The Federation of Labour was one of the first groups to sound the alarm about the dangers faced by the Yukon’s young workers.
That was back in January of 2007.
Since then, a motion has been passed by the Yukon legislature to study what the government can do to protect youth in the workplace.
As a result of that motion, a consultation was done.
And as a result of that consultation, the code of practice was created.
The code is just the first of many changes that the health and safety board plans to make as a result of the consultation.
It was completed first because the fact that young workers need extra training and supervision was easily agreed upon, health and safety president and CEO Valerie Royle told the News.
It was more difficult to reach a consensus in other areas, such as minimum age requirements, which is what health and safety plans to tackle next.
There are currently no minimum age requirements in the territory, aside from those imposed on the mining industry.
“I disagree with the president of WCB trying to start where there’s consensus,” said Furlong.
“In the Cinderella world that’s good, but we elect politicians to make the tough decisions and we have people running organizations that have to sometimes go against the consensus.
“And if that means saving a child’s life then someone’s got to step up to the plate and do it.”
Furlong estimates it will be at least another year or so before the government contemplates imposing age requirements.
And that’s not soon enough.
“Our political masters are going to have to really decide what’s in the best interest of kids in this territory.”
Furlong would also like to see the health and safety board take a more proactive approach to safety enforcement.
“They need to have enforcement campaigns where they go out and visit work sites unannounced and write up orders to correct things,” he said.
“Waiting for a complaint to come in is not good enough anymore.”
One of the biggest sticking points from the consultation was family owned businesses.
No one could agree on whether or not the territory should even be allowed to regulate these businesses, let alone age requirements.
But a study of young worker deaths in Ontario found that 25 per cent of deaths occurred while working for parents or close relatives.
“So let’s get on with the age requirements, let’s put something in the legislative process, let’s put it in the act and let’s have education through enforcement,” said Furlong.
“That’s the only thing that’s going to work.”
At the end of the day, the territory needs a champion for young workers, said Furlong.
“And if it’s me holding that torch, then so be it, because I will not rest until we have a legislative commitment through an act change that protects these workers,” he said.
“Anything outside of that is not acceptable.”
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