New position would tighten government grip on workers: union

The Yukon Employees’ Union is “profoundly concerned” by a new position that has been created at the workers’ advocate office.

The Yukon Employees’ Union is “profoundly concerned” by a new position that has been created at the workers’ advocate office.

“We can only conclude that this is a personal attack against the current workers’ advocate, as well as an attempt to hamstring a strong and effective workers’ advocate office,” Yukon Employees’ Union president Laurie Butterworth said on Thursday.

The duties of the newly created position are essentially the same as those of the current workers’ advocate.

The only differences are that the job is a management position that is excluded from the union’s bargaining unit and it is part of the Justice department management team.

“The Yukon Employees’ Union is dismayed and profoundly concerned,” said president Laurie Butterworth in a letter to Justice Minister Marian Horne.

“It creates another level of bureaucracy — one that removes the current direct relationship between the workers’ advocate and the deputy minister of Justice,” said Butterworth.

The union was informed of the planned reorganization on Monday. After investigating the matter it sent Horne the letter Thursday.

The government will accept applications for the new position, which is posted on its website, until September 11.

Mike Travill, the current workers’ advocate, is allowing the union to speak for him.

“To me, this would be a demotion for him,” said Butterworth.

“It is impossible to ignore the fact that [Travill] supported another political party during the last Yukon election,” said Butterworth in his letter.

The Yukon Employees’ Union will be fighting the new position through the Workers’ Compensation Board Act.

Butterworth cites a 25-page report on the workers’ advocate office, Prospects for the Future, which was released December 12, 2006.

The report found that the office worked well and that, “any change would likely require statutory amendment,” said Butterworth.

By reorganizing the office in this manner, the government may be contravening its legislation.

The workers’ advocate advises workers and the dependants of deceased workers on the compensation process.

The advocate can also assist or represent workers when negotiating claims before adjudicators, hearing officers or appeal committees.

“The installation of a manager’s position will eliminate the independence and protection the workers’ advocate now maintains from departmental or political interference,” said Butterworth.

This independence is vital in order to provide independent expert advice to injured workers, Butterworth quoted from the report.

Also, a manager would be in charge of the budget and may be more worried about the cost of taking on new cases, rather than helping injured workers, he said.

Before the workers’ advocate office was formed, injured workers were forced to hire their own lawyers.

The position was created in 1997 and a panel of union representatives and non-unionized workers participated in the selection process.

In 1999, the position was thoroughly evaluated and the following year entrenched in legislation.

“I think we need to stop and go back to the people who set this up — go back to the workers,” said Butterworth.

Justice Minister Marian Horne did not respond to interview requests for this article.