Right to Refuse

All Canadians workers have three basic health and safety rights:
• the Right to Know: what are the hazards that a worker may face
• the Right to Participate: to investigate and participate in health and safety activities
• the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work: if a worker has reason to believe that work is dangerous, the worker has the right to refuse that work without fear of repercussions.
The United Steelworkers have always been proud to call ourselves the health and safety union. We’ve always had to be; we have seen to many workers seriously hurt or killed on the job. That’s why we continue to be; hopefully you have all learned of our union’s “Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law” campaign. Almost 45 years ago our members forced a Royal Commission that first created the three basic rights listed above – we’ve used those rights every day.
Today, no matter your worksite, these rights are critical in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and these must be workers’ bottom lines when on the job.
Thankfully in most cases, responsible employers will work with us to resolve work refusals quickly and without issue, using common sense and cooperation. However, we have some employers who need government regulators to learn that workers’ health and safety comes before profits and production deadlines.
Sometimes that’s still not enough, and as workers, we have to know and be prepared to use our rights. The USW has produced “Right to Refuse” cards for every health and safety jurisdiction in Canada. The processes are outlined and require you to follow the steps that are established by health and safety legislation. Across Canada, Steelworkers have Health and Safety Coordinators that will assist you and your local. Their information is on our website at www.usw.ca, as well as information on covid-19 at www.usw.ca/members/coronavirus-resources.
Every day on the job, your health and safety should come first. Getting through this global pandemic means we all have to be more afraid of the virus than the boss. You should be, we all should be—it’s our right.