The union representing the majority of Yukon government employees has triggered a widespread investigation into workplace health and safety systems across multiple territorial departments.
The Yukon Employees’ Union has requested the Yukon Workers’ Safety and Compensation Board investigate three departments in which the union had complaints coming in from workers.
The first of three investigations instigated by the union has concluded. As reported by the News, the compensation board’s inspection report issued Aug. 26 shows the Education department is failing to meet legislation that requires health and safety committee programs in 18 of the territory’s 36 schools.
The report ends with nine orders and eight corrective actions directed at deputy minister Nicole Morgan.
Union vice president Justin Lemphers said the union has also requested the board inspect health and safety systems within the department of Energy, Mines and Resources and the department of Health and Social Services.
In an Aug. 29 interview, Richard Mostyn, who is the minister responsible for the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Board, said there’s a “fairly wide-ranging investigation that’s gone on for months.”
“I can say that I don’t think there’s a precedent for this in the Yukon. I believe that this is the very first time that such a widespread investigation has been done into the health and safety of Yukon government,” he said.
“I personally take the health and safety of workers very seriously, so I’m very glad that this work has been done.”
Yukon Party MLA for Lake Laberge Brad Cathers said the matter is concerning. Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said it’s a systemic issue that’s part of the bigger picture.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the board said the board does not disclose its ongoing investigations.
“Investigations can be complex and there is no way determine how long they may take,” Heather Avery said.
“When an investigation is concluded, a report will be provided to the appropriate workplace parties and may be available to the public upon request.”
Lemphers said he started reviewing different aspects of health and safety across many of the public and private-sector employers the union represents in November 2021.
“We started to do a collection of concerns that we’d heard previously from workers about workplace health and safety, and then really started to drill down and do some investigation on those specific concerns,” he said.
That involved zooming out to look at whether these large workplaces had functioning health and safety systems in place that met the standards set out by the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Act.
Lemphers noted the inspection report found “significant problems” including limited record-keeping throughout the schools and that joint health and safety committees had not met the minimum.
“The concern is when you have an entire department of Yukon government that is not meeting the minimum standard in the legislation,” he said about the territory’s largest employer. “That’s a pretty big red flag.”
Lemphers wonders if there’s a pattern across departments.
He said the inspection report validated what the union had been hearing from workers. He said “credit goes to the members in the workplaces that have really been pushing on these issues for years prior to really bring it to our attention and action this and get this outcome.”
Lemphers said he could not speak about the specifics of workers’ complaints.
“What I can say is that there are workers who are frustrated with how their complaints are being handled,” he said.
“That management doesn’t really understand the responsibility that things are taken seriously.”
Lemphers will be closely watching what happens next.
“We’ll be looking to see what corrective measures they implement, and then checking with our members and verifying through access to committee meetings or minutes that we can get whether or not the fixes that are required through here are working,” he said.
Lemphers said he has heard from workers who are concerned this could result in more work for them.
“My hope is that for those who are interested once these systems are up and functioning, that that opportunity is open to them, but not that it becomes a burden to them,” he said.
“The other side of the coin is we’ve certainly heard from employees who had a keen interest in this report, in particular, who are very happy that it has come out and they’re hoping to see progressive change in their workplaces, be at the schools or at the department of Education.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org