Three Rights for Workers

Intro: This podcast is brought to you by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.


CCOHS is situated upon the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas. This land is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabek to share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We further acknowledge that this land is covered by the Between the Lakes Purchase, 1792, between the Crown and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.


Chris: The gig economy. More part-time work scenarios. New and young workers filling jobs vacated by retirees. Increasing demands put on workers in sectors where there are staff shortages. These are just some scenes from today's evolving workplaces.


What do they all potentially have in common?


The workers in these scenarios all have rights. Today we're going to discuss the three basic rights of all workers in Canada.


Hello and welcome to CCOHS podcasts.


Hi Ashley. What do you notice about what's happening in today's working environment?

Ashley: Hi Chris! The ongoing pandemic has led to changes in the way many workers are experiencing their jobs and employment. For a lot of workers there is a lack of predictability and job security about their work, both of which can be challenging to their psychological well-being. Some workers may be thinking that they have little say about their jobs.

Chris: This is interesting. And it's a timely reason to discuss the rights of workers.


Ashley: Sure. Every person employed in Canada has the right to a safe work environment. Each jurisdiction's occupational health and safety act is based on the internal responsibility system. In this system everyone in the workplace has responsibility for their own health and safety and the health and safety of those around them.


This responsibility includes employers, employees, owners, contractors, sub-contractors, contracting employers, and suppliers. Generally speaking, employers are responsible for maintaining policies and procedures to ensure a safe workplace. The worker role is to follow safe work practices and to report safety hazards.


Chris: Workers not only have responsibilities in health and safety, but they also have rights. Do these rights apply to all employees, whatever their work situation?


Ashley: Yes. Occupational health and safety legislation in Canada entitles all workers to three basic rights.


Chris: Let's talk about those. What are the three basic rights of workers?


Ashley: First, is “The right to know about health and safety matters.”

Second, “The right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety”.

And third, “The right to refuse work that is unsafe or dangerous to themselves or others”.

Chris: The right to know means that as a worker, you have the right to be informed by your employer about the known or likely hazards in the workplace, and to be provided with the information, instructions, education, training, and supervision necessary to protect your health and safety.

This information should be provided before you begin work or a new task.


Ashley: That's right. Some examples are providing information in the form of product labels, safety data sheets, safe work procedures, or codes of practice. This information could also be verbal or written instruction provided by a supervisor, another employee, or outside providers. Training should be workplace specific and must meet the needs for your workplace.


Employers need to communicate using language that is suitable for the workers' age, ability, reading level, and language preferences. This can include Braille, large print, audiotapes, sign language, and using icons and images.


Chris: The second is the right to participate. What does that mean?


Ashley: The right to participate allows workers to have input on the steps taken by their employer to ensure their health and safety.


Each worker has the right to participate in discussions around health and safety, which includes communicating any concerns they may have.


Chris: What are some ways workers can participate?


Ashley: There are several ways! They can join their health and safety committee or serve as a health and safety representative - depending on the size of their workplace. Or they can participate by simply reporting any health and safety issues that could potentially harm themselves or their co-workers. And if they have any ideas as to how to make the workplace safer, they have the right to speak up and suggest them.


Chris: The third right for workers is the right to refuse


Ashley: The right to refuse is normally used when the first two rights fail to ensure your health and safety. Exercising this right is serious and should not be done lightly or as a routine method of solving workplace problems.


However, workers should not be afraid to exercise their right to refuse when they have reason to believe that the work will endanger their health or safety, or that of others.


Chris: It's important to note that exercising the right to refuse unsafe work is only appropriate when the employer is asking the worker to do something that the worker believes is an immediate danger to their health and safety or that of a co-worker.


Ashley: Yes. Unsafe or dangerous work can include working with or near equipment or machinery with insufficient hazard controls, unsafe physical work conditions, or not being provided the appropriate training or qualifications to perform the work safely. It may also include exposure to workplace violence that may harm a worker.

Chris: As you mentioned Ashley, exercising the right to refuse unsafe or dangerous work must be used for serious and imminent hazards and should not be used as a method of solving routine workplace issues.


So, whenever possible, speak with a supervisor, your health and safety committee, employer, or union before refusing to work.


The right to refuse process can involve several steps. Depending on the province or territory, these steps may vary, but workers in Canada do not have to worry about the risk of losing their job, working permit, or passport. It is every worker's right to have safe work, and an employer cannot force you to perform duties that may endanger yourself or others.

Chris: So, to sum it up, the three main rights of workers are: the right to know about health and safety matters, the right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety, and the right to refuse work that is unsafe or dangerous to themselves or others.


Ashley: These are three rights that all workers and employers should know. For more information and resources on the three rights of workers and worker health and safety, visit and click on the “Worker” dropdown link on the homepage.


Chris: Thanks for listening!