Mohawk Bridge workers are all covered under Kahnawake’s Mohawk Self Insurance, and MBC partner Amy Rice said the cost of ensuring workers are covered is well worth the price tag. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)
At a June 12 MCK table meeting, council passed an executive directive unanimously agreeing to implement certain sections of the “Agreement on Labour between the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and le Gouvernement of Quebec” from 2014 regarding compensation for workplace accidents and diseases.
“This is something the community wanted,” said Kirby. “We’re looking at over 40 years of work that was done on the bridge. It’s been a long time coming. I think there’s people that might disagree, but it’s to the benefit of community members who work in the community. It’s important for everyone to be healthy and for the health and safety of their employees.”
The agreement, Kirby explained, solidifies Kahnawake’s jurisdiction when it comes to workplace injuries, which is something that council has been working to achieve for almost half a century.
“We’ve been working on that for a number of years now,” said Kirby. “The whole reason that the MSI is even in existence is because of the work that was originally going on on the bridge in the 70s.”
At that time, Kirby explained, Kahnawake workers complained that CCQ (commission de la Construction du Quebec) staff should not be the ones to do inspections, and that Kahnawake’s agencies should handle inspections and health and safety procedures.
“That was sort of the beginning of that program,” she said. “Now we have an agreement with CNESST (Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail) that everyone in the community would be covered.”
Some departments remained to be worked out, but the agreement signed this month is the start of a reciprocal agreement to establish the Kahnawake Quebec Labour agreement.
The arrangement means that Kahnawa’kehró:non injured on the job will register with MSI, while those from outside the community will do the same with CNESST.
The same would apply off-reserve. If a worker on the Champlain Bridge, for example, suffered an injury they would register their injury with CNESST and MSI would be billed later.
“There’s reciprocal arrangements,” said Kirby.
Many companies, including The Eastern Door, pay into the MSI program in Kahnawake, and Kirby hopes more will follow suit.
“We had a campaign several years ago to encourage all the employers to pay into it,” said Kirby. “We do have the majority of the larger organizations that pay into it. We do have some private companies in town that pay into it, and it does mean that everyone is covered for a workplace accident.”
The Mohawk Bridge Consortium pays into the program, and is one of the biggest employers in the community. Partner Amy Rice confirmed the company pays monthly premiums for all bridge workers and office staff.
“We’ve always had a collaborative relationship with MSI and we continue to do so,” said Rice. “Communication is very important. If there are issues we need to discuss, MBC or MSI will call a meeting and we sit down and try to resolve them as soon as possible.”
The program has a sliding scale on costs depending on the risk to injury in the job. Ironworkers, for example, would pay some of the highest premiums due to the high-risk nature of the work.
MSI manager Joel Jacobs explained that the premium rate for an ironworker is 18.87 percent per hour up to the maximum yearly insurable amount of $72,500, after which no more premiums are paid. The employer, not the worker, pays the premiums. The Eastern Door, for example, pays just over six percent per hour per employee into the program.
Value for money-wise, Rice feels the investment in the program is worth it.
“Bottom line is our workers are protected in the event that an injury occurs, so I would say, yes, the investment in health and safety is very important for us,” said Rice.
“That’s what’s most important for me, and we are respecting Kahnawake jurisdiction by abiding by it. That is the key. We’ve always maintained our position that we follow Kahnawake’s rules and regulations as it relates to the construction industry.”
Brian Delormier runs a small cigarette store on the Old Chateauguay Road, and, though he was firm that he did not oppose MSI, he has reservations about the possibility of the program becoming mandatory for employers.
“I think having insurance for employees is a good thing, being a union ironworker for 37 years now, I understand the importance of insurance in the workplace,” he said.
“Most people in business today in our community have insurance of one type or another for their workers and their businesses, but this MSI will be forced on all of us in business, and that is just not the way our people do things. We don’t force anything on anybody!”
Delormier said the MCK asked the Kahnawake Tobacco Association (KTA) to add mandatory enrolment in MSI as part of the ongoing Kahnawake Tobacco Law and the KTA refused.
“It is not our place to do so, nor, like I said, it is not the way of our people to do this to each other,” said Delormier.
Delormier suggested having a community-wide referendum on whether the program should be mandatory.
“We should have a vote on all of the things facing our community these days to see what the people really think and what we really want,” he added. “Put all the questions on a ballot and we vote on the bunch of them.”
Kirby said, although council hopes employers will sign up for the program, it is not currently mandatory.
“I find it really hard at times (that) employers are not taking into consideration at times the health and safety of their employees,” she said.
She added that the goal is for the program to grow to include pension plans and other benefits in the future.
“Eventually, with the labour office, we would like to make sure that people have the ability to pay into EI (employment insurance), they can pay into pensions and things like that,” she said.
“Right now, there are no benefits for the people working within the community. I think we, as the government, have the responsibility to make sure that everyone is properly covered and eventually has proper benefits.”
The risk of being uninsured is higher than the cost of paying for insurance for Kirby.
“There are some businesses who don’t pay into anything, and if one of their employees is injured, they’re out of luck,” said Kirby. “We want to make sure that people have the coverage, and, if need be, they can go to therapy down the road, and that they still receive part of their salary.”