Back in the early 1990s I was working as an apprentice printer in the Composing Room of the Peterborough Examiner newspaper. Eager to earn the trust of my union brothers and sisters, I worked hard, and I volunteered for things as I much as I could. Which is how I ended up the Composing Room representative on the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee.
Anxious to understand what the role of the committee was, I called the provincial Labour Department for guidance. The person I was transferred to when I called happened to be the workplace inspector responsible for the Examiner, and my call prompted him to realize that he hadn’t made a surprise inspection in some time. So he decided to make one, and said he’d be there in 20 minutes. He told me inform the Publisher of his impending visit.
This was not my original intention, and it could have put me in a sticky wicket, especially as he went on to find a number of health and safety violations, things like a printing press running without proper guards in place.
Fortunately I had the protection (and respect) of my union, if not the thanks of management.
Thirty years later and here in Charlottetown, Oliver and Catherine and I headed to a local restaurant for supper one day this summer.
Oliver and I, and Oliver’s service dog Ethan, had been there a couple of times together; we’d always been greeted warmly, and the food was always good.
This time, however, the server who greeted us at the door told us that Ethan would not be allowed in the restaurant.
We explained that he was a service dog, and she said that, as much as she realized that he was allowed in, her manager had told her not to admit us, and there was nothing she could do.
We left (and then followed up later to ensure this wouldn’t happen again).
My worry was that we’d put the server in a difficult situation, one where she was forced to do what she knew not to be the right thing. She didn’t have a union to back her up, and if she’d pressed the issue I’m sure there was a risk that she’d be putting her job in jeopardy.
I thought of both incidents when I read of Peter Bevan-Baker’s plan to introduce a Private Members Bill in the fall session of the Legislative Assembly that would see “whistle blower” protection afforded to all PEI workers.
Just in case this excursion into statutory minutia has been so gripping that it has got your heart racing at dangerous levels, I shall protect you from the rapture of what a jurisdictional scan is, and cut to the chase of why I’m doing this. Imagine you worked in a private nursing home, and your boss was not following provincial guidelines, and that concerned you because you cared deeply and above all for the safety and well-being of the people in your care. After speaking with your employer and trying to fix things internally with no success, in the absence of legal protection, it would be a risky thing to do to expose those concerns to the appropriate licensing body, and you may well jeopardize your job. Imagine the same dynamic in a restaurant where health and safety protocols are being ignored, or on a farm where the application of pesticides may not be following provincial regulations. In all of these cases, currently there are no protections for people in the private sector who bring these concerns to the appropriate body.
As my own experiences suggest, I believe Peter’s on to something here, and I encourage you to participate in the discussion of the draft bill to ensure that it receives fair hearing and passage.