April 3, 2001 SOCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE No. 4
The Committee met at 6:30 p.m. in the House of Assembly Chamber.
CHAIR (Mr. Sweeney): Order, please!
(Inaudible). First of all, I would like to thank the minister for a wonderful meal. We have a little bit of housekeeping. Before we go any further, I guess I should have the Committee minutes passed from this morning. Can I have a motion to adopt them - and there is an error - to adopt them as amended?
MS S. OSBORNE: As amended.
CHAIR: As amended, yes, and the area there - Tom Rideout was showing.
On motion, minutes, as amended, adopted.
CHAIR: Just a reminder to the minister and her officials - and I think we all know each other, so we will dispense with that - when you speak, press talk. You don't have to (inaudible) press and watch your light for the purpose of recording.
How we will start off is, we will call a subhead, ask the minister to give her preamble, and we will continue on from there.
CLERK: Head 1.1.01.
CHAIR: Head 1.1.01.
MS THISTLE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Oh, do I have to have this on?
CHAIR: Yes, get your light. There you go.
MS THISTLE: Actually, this is a new addition since the last time I have been in this room. We had all of the other ones before.
Good evening. I am just looking around, and it is still light out for this time of the evening. It is wonderful. As you have said, Mr. Chair, you already know my officials here. I do not know if I need to introduce them, but for the record probably: Joe O'Neill, Deputy Minister; George Joyce, Assistant Deputy Minister of Labour. We are missing one Assistant Deputy Minister tonight; that would be Kim Dunphy. She is on the occupational health and safety side. I must say, it has been a pleasure to have a few minutes with you prior to being here.
I want to tell you a little bit about our new Department of Labour. With the new Grimes government, the Premier has decided to set up a new Department of Labour. He realizes, and I think the labour movement in general realize - and, in fact, they have talked to me about it - that we need to improve the labour relations, the labour climate in this Province. The labour movement have come up to me since being appointed as Cabinet minister to this department and told me how pleased they were that Labour was going to be separate again. I believe it has been about ten years since the Department of Labour has been a separate department. They are looking forward to what we want to do as a government in developing a new climate here in this Province, because labour relations in the Province is so key to us as a government and as a Province in attracting new business to this Province; because, if you have labour unrest, economically speaking, you have a problem on your hands.
I am tasked with the responsibility of improving the labour situation in this Province and I believe that in doing so both the social and economic development of this Province will change. I am excited about the challenge. Every new task you have brings a new challenge, and I must say that I am excited about this one.
I want to tell you about the new Department of Labour, how it is set up. It is in two divisions, actually. One is labour and the other one is workplace health and safety. Also, in addition to that, I have the responsibility of the Workers' Compensation Commission.
The labour branch - these are the labour people, really, here beside me tonight - provides mediation services to unions and employers engaged in collective bargaining. These two individuals on both sides of me have been very busy now for about twelve straight days, is it? At least twelve days. This is just one facet of what they do in a regular day's work, because whenever there are labour disruptions anywhere in the Province and companies and so on call the Department of Labour, we are there at a moment's notice ready to get involved and see how we can resolve issues.
Mediators, I must say, in the department, have a good batting average. They have a 90 per cent settlement rate. You do a good job, I am sure. I know how hard they work, because all over the past weekend I have been receiving calls morning, noon, and night from Joe, and I know that George has been involved just as much, and Cyril Colford. You might have seen him on television, if you have seen the interview Glenn Deir did with him down at the Fairmont, from CBC. Glenn was about seven feet tall, and Cyril was about four. I know there was a big comparison. Cyril has been around a long time and does a great job as well.
Through the Labour Standards Division, our department assists non-union employees and employers with working conditions under the Labour Standards Act. Those areas would include such things as vacation pay, termination of employment, minimum wage; whatever employees or employers might have as a complaint or an inquiry. I would not hazard to guess how many phone calls might come in the run of a year. Would you have any idea, Joe?
MR. O'NEILL: At labour standards?
MS THISTLE: Yes.
MR. O'NEILL: Last year they received 31,000 calls, and that was tracked by Newfoundland Telephone.
MS THISTLE: Amazing, isn't it?
Of course, the Labour Relations Board deals with certification of trade unions, certification applications, revoked certification applications, unfair labour practice, complaints and requests for imposition of first collective agreements. All the organizing that you hear taking place around the Province, the Department of Labour is totally involved with all of those issues.
In fact, the caseload of the Labour Relations Board has increased so much in recent years, recently I appointed Mr. Morgan Cooper as permanent Chair of the Labour Relations Board. That appointment took place April 1, and it is a five-year term.
You may recall Morgan Cooper. There was a report written, authored by Morgan Cooper, recently. It was about the dispute mechanism for solving and settling labour disputes, in particular to Bull Arm. Many of you will recall that during the issues out there with the Terra Nova Project - I am sure Mary Hodder might remember those, too - there was an issue out there and there was labour disruption in regard to union labeling and so on. There was an interest in Marystown, of course, acquiring some of that work. He wrote a report to government which he gave to us, when was it, about a month ago, or six weeks?
MR. O'NEILL: Yes, back in January.
MS THISTLE: January, was it? Time passes so quickly.
The thing that was different about this report was that the whole theme throughout his report was that parties themselves - both the employers and union - have the best mechanism for settling and stabilizing the labour atmosphere. You really cannot legislate labour harmony. The best chance of doing of doing it is having the employers and the unions work together. That particular report had how many recommendations?
MR. O'NEILL: Seventeen.
MS THISTLE: Seventeen. Those recommendations have received stakeholder endorsement and the report is now before government. We are reviewing it. Some of the recommendations will be ones that will be brought to the Legislature, and other ones will be ones that can happen by the employers themselves and so on, the parties themselves. That would be nice.
I want to tell you about the other part of the Department of Labour, which is workplace health and safety. That division is responsible for enforcing the Occupational Health and Safety Act, ensuring that workers/employers are exercising their responsibility to maintain safe and healthy workplaces throughout the Province. The workplace health and safety branch looks after roughly 14,500 businesses in the Province, ensuring that people are using the right safety methods, the right safety precautions, and whenever there is an infraction or something done wrong, the inspectors routinely visit those workplaces and issue directions to ensure that workplaces are kept free from hazards. They have a large job to do as well. They are situated both here in St. John's, Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook, Labrador City. I think there are eighteen inspectors in total, are there? They are constantly on the move; they are traveling all over the Province and they have a big task ahead of them as well.
Lastly, I want to tell you about the Workers' Compensation Commission. Recently, you might have heard of a task force review as well by workers' compensation. That was initiated by my colleague, the hon. Oliver Langdon, and he as well initiated the study by Morgan Cooper. That particular report is now before government as well, and the stakeholders that were involved in that review endorsed the report as well. That matter is now before government for consideration and a decision. Some of the recommendations coming out of that particular review will involve legislation changes as well.
I had no idea, I think, when I look back now, when I looked at the Department of Labour as being combined with the Department of Environment. We always heard an awful lot about environmental over this past five years because there are so many environmental issues as well. Once settled into the department, I had no idea that you guys were so busy and there was so much demand for Department of Labour services. I must say, it is an interesting department and it will play a large part in our economy in the future, in stabilizing labour conditions in the Province.
That is it, as an introduction to the Department of Labour. If you would like to ask me any questions, or my officials, we would welcome the opportunity.
CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.
I guess we will start at the first subhead, 1.1.01., and continue on from there.
MS S. OSBORNE: I guess, under 1.1.01. and 1.2.01., the difference between the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 budget is because of the setting up of the new department, is it?
MS THISTLE: Yes, Mr. Chair, that is exactly what it was. Prior to this year, it was combined with the Department of Environment, so what we have done now, the Director of Financial Planning has indicated what portion would belong to Labour, and has estimated what it would cost to actually run this department in the next year.
MS S. OSBORNE: I have skipped right over to 2.1.01.05., the difference between 2000-2001 and then again 2001-2002, the budget for Professional Services. There is quite a difference there between those three figures.
MS THISTLE: Yes, I know what it is.
MR. O'NEILL: (Inaudible).
MS THISTLE: Yes, sure.
MR. O'NEILL: That is the $180,000 last year to the $95,000 this year, is it, Ms. Osborne?
MS S. OSBORNE: And the $198,000 that was used. The revised was $198,000.
MR. O'NEILL: The extra funding there was to cover the cost of extra consulting fees. We had a labour standards review report that was done as part of the $180,000. The $180,000 was really made up of the fish price settlement mechanism and the labour standards review report. The difference in the $95,000 from the $180,000 - it is a fair drop - what has happened is that we have a full-time facilitator who now does the fish price mechanism facilitation. He is hired full time now in the department, and we have transferred - you will notice in line 1 - his salary, $55,000, from that subhead into Salaries.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay.
MR. O'NEILL: Of course, the labour standards report last year was in the vicinity of $30,000, and we will not be doing a report this year; we did it last year.
MS S. OSBORNE: I guess the same thing applies under 2.1.02.05., does it? Is that the same explanation?
MR. O'NEILL: Under 2.1.02.05., Labour Relations Board, Professional Services -
CHAIR: Just a reminder, Joe, when you give your name - I think Hansard probably knows us - the officials, where they change.
MR. O'NEILL: Under 2.1.02.05., the professional services fees for the Labour Relations Board is estimated around $200,000; but in recent years the number of hearings before the Labour Relations Board has substantially increased. That is resulting in a huge increase in our professional services fees, the fees that are paid to board members. We are hoping that will eventually level itself out again over time. One of the reasons for that, of course, is that the Labour Relations Board has to be very careful in ensuring that employers and employees are granted hearings when they request them, because they have had some constitutional challenges where they have denied requests for hearings.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay, so you could not have somebody from the department do it; it has to be a neutral person from outside?
MR. O'NEILL: That is right, Ms. Osborne. The Labour Relations Board, of course, is made up of, now, a full-time Chair, as the minister has pointed out. In appointing the full-time Chair, that is one of the proactive measures that the department has taken to try and address that measure as well.
MS S. OSBORNE: I am just going to go to workplace, health and safety, not any of the lines there, but you talked about workplace safety. One of the concerns that I have, and it has been brought to me by a couple of people who are employed in bars, is the smoking. If people who are out in any other field were exposed to the same carcinogens and toxins that these employees are exposed to, then the workplace health and safety people would be in on it right away.
I know that it is really contentious in terms of stopping smoking in bars, and I know that the government has made some moves in that direction in that the legislation is coming in -
MS THISTLE: In 2002.
MS S. OSBORNE: - in 2002 to stop smoking in restaurants where children frequent, but I think that a long and serious look should be made at the smoking in bars, for the employees' sake. Many times the people who are the servers there, that is the only employment they can get, and many of them are really concerned about their exposure to that and the side effects that they suffer as a result when they go home. They have headaches, asthma, and all the other things that are associated. I know that it is contentious, but I know that these people are just as important as people who are working in any other profession and we really should not have them exposed to the dangers that they are exposed to. Are you making any moves in the direction to have that corrected? Is there more legislation anticipated that would cut down on that?
Even in the bars - and this is for the patrons, I suppose, but then you know when you go into a bar that you are going into smoke. There are not a lot of teeth in the legislation to have a certain percentage of the bar outlawed as non-smoking and another part as smoking. There is not much teeth in that legislation, or there does not appear to be, and it is not being enforced.
MS THISTLE: Thank you, Ms. Osborne.
Being a non-smoker myself, I know exactly what you are talking about. Government, too, realizes the effects of second-hand smoke and so on. Of course, being government and setting policy and direction, you have to look at the issue from all sides: number one, what is it doing to people's health; and, also, what is it doing to the economic part to the businesses that are out there?
Your question is a good one, and it is something that governments right across the country have been working on. I believe out in British Columbia now it is smoke free in bars. I am sure that the matter is currently under consideration and, as you already stated, we will be taking moves next year this time; but, to be fair to people who operate businesses and so on, an advance notice was necessary and that is the reason why restaurants next year will be smoke free. Where it will end up after that, I am sure that there will be improvements to that as well, but you make a very good point.
MS S. OSBORNE: We look forward to that legislation probably in the fall, directed towards the bars, particularly for the employees, because people have a choice whether they go there or not. Granted, it is off limits to a lot of people who do have asthma or emphysema or any of the other smoking related illnesses, or illnesses that would be affected by exposure to smoke; but, in fairness to the employees, it might be a good idea to have a look at that. Even if there were more policing in the bars to ensure that the smoking regulations that are on the books, the legislation and the regulations that are on the books, were enforced, it might be a good idea.
I have one other question, and that is on workers' compensation. I brought this up in the House of Assembly a couple of times and it is a bit bothersome. It is workers' compensation for respite workers who are hired by private families. Because there is no workers' compensation available to them, it has a lot of people at a disadvantage. One is the family of the person who is seeking the care, in that they cannot get a good respite worker to come in because it is becoming more and more well known out there now that there isn't workers' compensation for them. Not only that, but many times because of the violent tendencies or the physical limitations of the client, the worker is exposed to danger to themselves physically in terms of either being injured by the person because they have a violent outburst, or having a back injury because of having to lift the person from the wheelchair to the bed to the toilet and into the bathtub, and things like that. I am concerned for everybody here, for the worker and for the clients who require the services, because it is getting harder and harder out there now to get respite workers because they are - well, first of all, the pay is low; it is only $5.84 an hour; and, second of all, because of the dangers that they face when they are in the workplace. I know that government is aware of it and they were working towards having it resolved. Has any movement been made towards a resolution?
MS THISTLE: As you know, part of the budget this year was to increase the salaries of home care workers. As you mentioned, the salary was $5.84. It is going to $6.66 in July and then $7.01 six months later than that, which has been, I think, a 20 per cent increase overall for home care workers.
The home care workers who are employed today are employed in what they call self-managed care. As it stands today, there are no workers' compensation benefits for them; however, this is a matter that would be best directed to Health and Community Services. It does not come under the Department of Labour.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay, I wasn't sure.
MS THISTLE: Yes, they have the jurisdiction for that particular matter. The only way I can approach it is, you know, with the facts that are currently out there; but that particular question as to when or if a government may make a policy change, you can probably direct it to Health and Community Services.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay.
Those are all the questions I have. I put the Chair on notice that at a couple of these Estimates meetings I have garnered some questions for Health and Community Services, so be prepared for a long one. Last night, at Justice, I got some that also came under Health and Community Services.
Thank you very much, Madam Minister.
CHAIR: We will bring a lunch.
MS S. OSBORNE: Bring a lunch.
Thank you very much. Those are all the questions I have today.
CHAIR: Thank you, Sheila.
MR. MANNING: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I would like to go on record and thank the minister for a wonderful supper.
MS S. OSBORNE: I do, too.
MR. MANNING: I want to make sure that (inaudible) the Minister of Justice at a later date, and that is on record.
I only have a couple of issues. I am also pleased to see a separate Department of Labour. A lot of people in our Province welcome that news, for sure. There are always labour issues, and sometimes (inaudible) another entity in government, it gets lost in the shuffle sometimes, so I am very pleased to see that.
I want to get back, if I could, for a moment, to home care workers. I have received some calls over the past couple of weeks on the increase. My understanding is - and correct me if I am wrong; it is an opportunity, I guess, to clear it up for myself - that we are going from $5.84 to $6.66 in July, and $7.01. Now, that is on self-managed care workers. I have gotten calls over the past couple of weeks from well over a dozen people who work in personal care homes, and those who are out there working for an agency, I guess, in the homes, but they are being paid by an agency. This increase does not relate to them, does it?
MS THISTLE: No, it does not. The increase was just for the home care support workers who are in self-managed care. It does not apply to the personal care homes or the agencies that you described.
MR. MANNING: Again, I know, a personal care home or an agency is, I guess, a private company, a private employer. Maybe you can answer: How many home care workers, percentage wise, fall under self-managed care versus home care workers who are with personal care homes and/or agencies?
MS THISTLE: I do not have the numbers but I understand, though, it is the majority of home care workers.
MS S. OSBORNE: Are in self-managed care?
MS THISTLE: Self-managed care.
MR. MANNING: The majority are in self-managed care?
MS THISTLE: My understanding is that we can probably request Health and Community Services to give you those numbers. I do not know, Joe, if you would know?
MR. O'NEILL: (Inaudible) question.
MS THISTLE: No, that is a health question.
MR. MANNING: A health question? Okay. Again, sometimes it is difficult to know which department.
MS THISTLE: There is a crossover, yes.
MR. MANNING: With that in mind, that issue, I want to go to another issue which is the minimum wage. In 1995, I believe, if memory serves me correctly - somewhere around there - we saw an increase in the minimum wage: $4.75 to $5.25 up to $5.50 now. Is there any consideration being given by the department and by government, I guess, to increase the minimum wage in the foreseeable future?
MS THISTLE: It is interesting that you brought up that question because it is a question that is out there, particularly as you approach the tourism season. In the summer, that question seems to surface.
There was a panel struck, a committee, awhile ago, as part of the labour standards review, and all the key stakeholders are involved in that panel . One of the items under review is the minimum wage itself, as part of the labour standards review. We are expecting, I think probably next fall, is it, to be able to report on that particular review. I have not doubt - in fact, I am certain - that the minimum wage will be part of that review. That question has come up in that.
MR. MANNING: Minister, when did you say the report was due on that?
MS THISTLE: Actually, what has happened, the report has been done and it is gone to the stakeholders for a response.
MR. MANNING: Okay.
MS THISTLE: As the responses come forward, then it will be presented to government for consideration. We expect by the time there would probably be any changes or any firm decisions, it would probably be early next fall.
MR. MANNING: Moving on to another issue, on the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, can you give us some round figures on the amount of appeals that have been heard, the amount of workload there. With that, I have a couple of other questions but with that one first.
MS THISTLE: Well, I do not know if I can give you the exact numbers but I know there are a tremendous number of appeals. Of course, anyone who has been following the Workers' Compensation Commission recently have probably heard in the media that, of course, they are in serious financial difficulty. Particularly last year there was an excessive amount of what we call soft tissue injuries related to sitting at a computer, and other back injuries classified as soft tissue injuries. I think last year alone, I do not have the figures here, something like $87 million or something, last year; do you recall, in claims last year, Joe?
MR. O'NEILL: The total number of claims in terms of appeals to the Workers' Compensation Review Division, there were approximately 400 appeals.
MR. MANNING: This is in the last year, is it, Joe, in the last fiscal year?
MR. O'NEILL: I do not have an exact number.
MR. MANNING: No, I know.
MS THISTLE: The key recommendation that came out of that workers' compensation was, I guess, that prevention is the key to injury, and that might involve - I do not know if you have seen the task force review that came out of workers' compensation. A lot of it calls, especially for soft tissue injuries, for ergonomics regulations.
MR. MANNING: In regard to, just using a round ballpark figure of 400 appeals, of that number - I use the word successful in relation to a person being considered for workers' compensation. Out of the 400 appeals, percentage wise again, or a ballpark figure again, how many people are successful in receiving compensation out of those appeals?
MS THISTLE: Do you have those numbers, Joe?
MR. O'NEILL: I do not have the numbers in front of me, Mr. Manning, but we did a review about a year ago and the number of cases that were successful on appeal was in the area of 16 per cent to 18 per cent. I understand that recently that number has been going down a bit, but the number of successful cases were around that average.
MR. MANNING: That is what I wanted to get at, because I had heard it was hovering around the 20 per cent figure. The costs associated with the appeals - and everybody has the right to appeal - and the re-appeal, I call it, this follow-up, if we are touching on 80 per cent of people who are turned down, most of these people take another avenue after that. It seems to be a large number of people who are going to the board or going to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board to come out, you know, with two out of ten or less who are receiving compensation at the end of the day. Is there a better mechanism that we could be using? Has the department given any consideration or any thought to, again, some way of addressing that concern? It seems to me, with an 80 per cent refusal - I use the word refusal but maybe it is not the proper word to use, but an 80 per cent turndown - it seems like there is an awful lot of work goes in here by a lot of people, including the people within your department, at the end of the day, not to have a successful appeal.
MR. O'NEILL: One of the key components of the task force review report has been the whole process of appeal, both the internal appeal at the commission itself and also the independent appeal at the Workers' Compensation Review Division. One of the recommendations in the task force review report, in fact, is to abolish the internal appeal at the commission so that if an injured worker reports to the commission and after the case is reviewed by a case manager and the decision is made to reject their application, they will be able to go straight to the Workers' Compensation Review Division; so it basically eliminates one level of appeal. You are right; they appeal internally to the commission itself and then, if they are unsuccessful, they go over to the review division for another appeal. The task force report has also recommended a number of changes at the review division itself that hopefully will streamline the process and make the decision-making more effective.
MR. MANNING: That is all I have, Mr. Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you, Fabian.
Anybody from -
MR. MERCER: Yes, just a couple of questions. Joe, in your labour relations, how are you structured? How does your division or your department structure (inaudible)? How do you go about doing (inaudible)?
MR. G. JOYCE: I terms of the labour branch, we have, of course, the Labour Relations Board, the Labour Relations Board being a quasi-judicial board, an independent board, made up of equal representation of employees represented by unions in the Province and employers. I guess, for administrative purposes only, they are housed in the Department of Labour because it is a quasi-judicial board.
The second component of the labour branch, you have the Labour Standards Division, and they administer labour standards offices in the Labour Standards Division. They administer the Labour Standards Act, and that governs minimum terms and conditions of employment in the Province for the non-unionized workforce in the Province.
The third component is the Labour Relations Division, and in the Labour Relations Division we have six conciliators: five in St. John's, one in Corner Brook. The Director of Labour Relations and what their involvement is, is that before any union can legally strike in the Province their employer can lock out; either party must make a request to the Minister of Labour for the appointment of a conciliation board and the minister then will appoint a conciliator in the division to convene meetings between the parties with a view of trying to find a resolution. That is basically our involvement. We also provide what we call a preventive mediation service, and that is taking a proactive approach during the life of a collective agreement in assisting employers and employees represented by unions resolving disputes themselves, to get ready for the new workforce for the future, so we take a proactive approach in that area.
Another service that we provide is arbitration. In the event the parties out there - every collective agreement in this Province, and there are approximately 500, must contain a dispute resolution mechanism, and the final recourse is through arbitration. At the end of the day, if the parties agree to disagree and cannot even agree on an arbitrator, then our minister is vested with the legislative authority to appoint an arbitrator, and we appoint that directly from the Labour Relations Division under the minister's authority. That is the structure of the labour branch.
MR. MERCER: The bulk of your staff, then, is in St. John's?
MR. G. JOYCE: That is correct.
MR. MERCER: You have five conciliators in St. John's and one in Corner Brook?
MR. G. JOYCE: That is correct.
MR. MERCER: Why not one in Grand Falls, Goose Bay, you know?
MR. G. JOYCE: In terms of Labrador, I think the caseload in Labrador, in our experience, we have never had a conciliator in Labrador. If we receive, say, ninety conciliation cases in the run of a year, we probably receive between five and ten a year in Labrador. What our big clientele in Labrador would be over time, of course, would be IOC, Wabush Mines, and we have seen in the past three or four years, not in the last couple of years, some more activity related to Voisey's Bay. In terms of having a full-time conciliator in Labrador, it would not be cost-effective for us. It would be cost-effective for government to provide that service either from Corner Brook or St. John's.
MR. MERCER: It still begs the question, why five in St. John's and only one outside?
MR. G. JOYCE: I guess, as I said, there are approximately 500 collective agreements. In terms of the cluster of collective agreements, it would be a rough guess, 75 per cent of all cases would be east of Gander.
MS THISTLE: Mr. Mercer, I was going to say, this minister is very keen on relocation and regionalization, so it might be something we can look at, at a later date for certain.
MR. MERCER: I ask because I know the individual in the Corner Brook office and he is never there. He is always out on mediation and conciliation. He is never in Corner Brook. He is either involved in a labour dispute in Stephenville or maybe in Grand Falls, but he is never home. It seems to be a fairly heavy workload. If you have five people, all in St. John's and one fellow out there to handle the rest of the Province, it seems to be an unfair distribution of the workload.
MR. O'NEILL: You are quite right. There was a time when we actually had two mediators in Corner Brook. When the downturn in the economy started back in the eighties - remember the recession in the early eighties? - we had a severe downturn in the number of activities. When the second mediator retired in Corner Brook, we did not fill that position for a long while. As things started to progress again, we filled the positions in St. John's, out of St. John's, but you are absolutely right. As things improve and we get more activity, as George has indicated, our mediator in Corner Brook generally looks after the Labrador region as well. So it is something that we can certainly look at in terms of - if you have the activity level high enough on the West Coast, maybe that is something. In fact, we had a conciliator in Grand Falls as well, Jack Stanley. He used to be a conciliator there for many years. So we did at one time have two in Corner Brook, one in Grand Falls, and four in St. John's. It is certainly something we can take a look at.
MR. MERCER: I notice your used the words mediator and facilitator. Of course, the individual in Corner Brook is not that per se, is he?
MR. O'NEILL: Minister Thistle asked me the same question. A couple of weeks ago she said: Why do you used the term, mediator and conciliator? I guess the term conciliator, as you probably know, is an old English term that we inherited into our Labour Relations Act going back to 1950. The terms mediator and conciliator are really interchangeable. The notion of a conciliator is somebody who meets with the parties and basically facilitates the process. He makes sure the parties have their positions on the table, that they work back and forth between the parties. That has been the traditional role of a conciliator.
A mediator - it is more contemporary now in North America, to use the term mediator. The notion of the mediator - really they are the same - is that a mediator is somebody who can take the parties, as we say, out to the woodshed every now and then and have a little chat with them if they feel they are being unreasonable. So it seems to have a little more force and authority, but certainly the terms are interchangeable.
MR. MERCER: So these six people are, in fact, what: conciliators, mediators, industrial relations specialists? What are they?
MR. O'NEILL: Their official title is industrial relations specialists. I had the benefit of experiencing them in action, and some of the newer ones as well, at the Hotel Newfoundland for the last week. I can certainly say they are mediators, because they have no hesitation in taking certain people to the woodshed, if they have to every now and then, and have a little chat with them. They really work in a mediation role.
MR. MERCER: I think we will follow up with the minister on the specifics on that a little later perhaps.
CHAIR: Eddie, would you like to -
MR. E. JOYCE: I would just like to, Minister and staff, in my involvement with the government in the last twelve years, I would just like to pat the department on the back, because I know the work that they do on the West Coast mainly. I know a lot of the disputes that the person from Corner Brook, Cliff, got involved with, and the staff in St. John's, and I know the positive effects that it has on a lot of disputes in the Province. Sometimes you go unnoticed, but I know many times, in my dealings with the disputes, that your party usually comes to save it and get things back on track.. I know you have dealt with a lot of issues on the West Coast, so I just want to be on record to acknowledge the work of the department and the staff, West Coast and St. John's, and say that you do provide a very valuable service and one that we need. I am glad that the Department of Labour is standing as their own department now, where now you can say yes, you are independent and you can work for both sides.
MS THISTLE: Thank you very much.
MS M. HODDER: Minister, I have one question and that is on 3.2.01., Assistance to St. Lawrence Miners' Dependents. I was just wondering if that figure there under 09. Allowances and Assistance, $66,000, does that represent the pensions that are being received right now?
MS THISTLE: Yes, it does. That was an agreement between -
MS M. HODDER: I am aware of the agreement and everything, fully aware of it. I just wondered if that was just pensions included in that figure.
MS THISTLE: Yes.
MS M. HODDER: I think they get something in the vicinity of about a $1,000 a month, most of them, wouldn't they, or does it vary?
MS THISTLE: I am not sure of the amount per person. In fact, I was just wondering how many -
MS M. HODDER: About $1,000 a month, about $12,000 a year, I think, would be -
MS THISTLE: In fact, I am not certain how many that looks after.
MS M. HODDER: I was thinking maybe about 550, from that amount, if that was all that was included. I was wondering, in the case of settlements, if that would be included in that figure too; because I know over the last couple of years I represented three widows whose husbands had never received a benefit prior to their death. We did the case afterwards, and that had been years back when they worked in the mines, and all three got settlements like, I think, over $80,000, and then a pension as well. I think the pension runs somewhere around $12,000, about $1,000 a month.
MS THISTLE: This was funding that was - I remember the success of your involvement.
MS M. HODDER: I did one right back to 1955.
MS THISTLE: Yes, and I remember that. I have been in government now for five years and I remember that particular occasion. You were telling us of the success you had with representing a deceased - was it a deceased worker?
MS M. HODDER: A deceased miner.
MS THISTLE: The money that is provided there was an agreement that was made in 1973 between the Aluminum Company of Canada Limited and the Government of Newfoundland to pay special assistance to victims and to widows and dependents of miners who died as a result of diseases developed when working in the fluorspar mines in St. Lawrence. I guess that will diminish after awhile, because a lot of those -
MS M. HODDER: That is what I was thinking. It will begin to diminish now because there are not too many cases left that could come on stream; and even for the widows, they are starting to diminish as well.
One more thing, Minister. I wanted to compliment the staff especially the workers' compensation here in St. John's, because I have a lot of dealings with them, appealing cases, and a lot of times we get things straightened out before it gets to that stage. I have to speak really highly for the people that I have had dealings with over there.
MS THISTLE: Thank you, very much. I know their work is complex and complicated when dealing with - it is serious enough to have an injury or an illness, but it is nice to know that people are looked after well. I have heard that from a lot of areas and I do appreciate your compliment in that regard. I know that the staff - you gain a greater appreciation, I am sure, when there is a dispute around the Province, particularly on a labour side.
Before I came to the Department of Labour, I had the occasion, I did not know these gentlemen at the time, but even in my district there were occasions when matters arose that the Department of Labour was involved in mediating settlements. I had no idea of the magnitude of work that is done from this department; so I certainly compliment the staff for their efforts and for the wonderful service that they are providing to the residents of the Province.
CHAIR: I guess nobody else has any comments?
MS S. OSBORNE: I have another couple of questions which came as a result of Fabian's question. One is the Workers' Compensation Review Division. I have known of people who have lost their appeal at the workers' compensation level and then gone in and the judge or the adjudicator or whatever has ruled in their favor and then workers' compensation - Workplace, Health and Safety, I think it is called now - has overturned it.
How much teeth or how much latitude does that adjudicator have, does the judge in there have, Mr. Gullage?
MR. O'NEILL: I guess you are referring to the internal appeal mechanism at the commission itself?
MS S. OSBORNE: Yes, I guess that is who overturns it. Before, I had a couple of people whom he ruled in favour of and then they were overturned. I always thought that the buck sort of stopped there. I just wondered: What is the process where he can rule in favour of the person? What would be the point of having him if the internal appeal folks down at workers' compensation turned it down in the first place, and then it went and he ruled in their favour, and they just overturned it again? I did not see the point of it then.
MR. O'NEILL: When the review division, the commissioners, Mr. Gullage, Mary O'Brien and others, make a decision on a case, the only provision the commission would have then would be to go back and ask for a reconsideration. While he made the (inaudible) decision, the option then that is there for the commission, if the ruling is made against him, is to go back and ask for a reconsideration. In the first instance, I guess, if you are the injured worker, you feel you may have gotten the support in the review division, but then, of course, it goes back to the commission, the decision goes back, and the commission says: We would like for you to look at it again.
MS S. OSBORNE: Yes.
MR. O'NEILL: Then, it can go back to the review commissioner for a request for a rehearing. The commissioner then can rehear the case or refer it to another commissioner to rehear. Then, of course, the final decision is made. Once that decision is made, then the only recourse, of course, would be the courts.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay. I wasn't sure of the process, because when it went to him - there is another commissioner besides Mr. Gullage, is there?
MR. O'NEILL: Actually, there are five commissioners.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay, because any time that I have been in I have just struck him. I did not know if he was the only person there.
MR. O'NEILL: Mary O'Brien is another commissioner here in St. John's, and there are three other commissioners around the Island.
MS S. OSBORNE: Okay.
Another question - this is a workers' compensation policy - I had a person once who was injured on the job, who went to Canada Pension and was turned down. Workers' compensation suggested that he get a lawyer and go back to CPP. He did get a lawyer, went to CPP and won his case, but the lawyer - I will just throw out round figures now - he got $13,000 from Canada Pension in back benefits, the lawyer charged him $5,000, but workers' compensation made him pay back the $13,000, which means that he went to the lawyer to save workers' compensation money. For the privilege of doing that, he had to pay $5,000 back to workers' compensation, which means he was really out money in the end.
WITNESS: He should have stayed home.
MS S. OSBORNE: He really should have stayed on workers' compensation, but it cost him. He had to pay workers' compensation his lawyer's fee. Is that policy still in existence? Because that is really bizarre.
MR. O'NEILL: I am not really familiar with the actual policies of the commission, certainly, because I do not work there on a regular basis, but I have heard of the case you mentioned. In fact, as you say, it cost the individual $5,000.
MS S. OSBORNE: To save workers' compensation money, for the rest of his life.
MR. O'NEILL: That is right, because they recover. They do a CPP claw back.
MS S. OSBORNE: He was satisfied to do that. He knew that he was kind of borrowing money from them while he was waiting for CPP to make the ruling, but then he paid them an extra $5,000, which was totally bizarre. That is really bizarre.
MR. O'NEILL: It is a case that I have heard about.
MS S. OSBORNE: It might be interesting to look into it and see if that is a policy they have.
I am finished now, apart from one more question. How busy are the five mediators or industrial relations people in St. John's?
MR. G. JOYCE: I just came from conciliation myself. I spent eleven years there. This year, for example, approximately 200 collective agreements are going to expire in the Province. They are very busy.
MS S. OSBORNE: Very busy.
The only reason I asked that was that I did not want to lose one of them to Corner Brook. You can give them a new one if you like.
WITNESS: Or Grand Falls.
MS S. OSBORNE: Yes, or Grand Falls. You can give them a new one, but I don't want to lose one..
That is all the questions I have.
CHAIR: Thank you all very much.
I do not generally pass any comments, but I must say that I am delighted to see that Labour has its own department.
MS S. OSBORNE: Absolutely.
CHAIR: Considering what we are into in the Province, with hopefully a brand new industry trying to grow, I think it is more important now than ever before, so I wish you all the very best in your endeavors in the growth of your department. I am sure you are going to be very busy.
MS S. OSBORNE: As a matter of fact, last year, I remember, at Estimates, labour got lost under environment. Really, labour issues were kind of swallowed up by environment.
MR. O'NEILL: I have attended the Estimates Committee probably for the last five or six years when we were combined with Environment and Labour. This is the first Estimates Committee that I have had the opportunity to reflect on some of the issues in the department. I really appreciate (inaudible).
MS S. OSBORNE: It was really good.
CHAIR: I have to call the heads.
On motion, subheads 1.1.01. through 4.1.01., carried.
On motion, Department of Labour, total heads, carried.
On motion, the Committee adjourned.