OTTAWA – The Trudeau government appears ready to roll into cannabis legalization next week without any new workplace impairment rules, leaving it up to most companies to set their own substance use policies.
Employers on a federally-struck committee pressed the government for two years for new labour code rules hat would provide detailed guidance to businesses on their and their employees’ responsibilities regarding cannabis use after the country legalizes it on Oct. 17.
The joint employer-worker group debated potential changes to the federal labour code, but ended up split over whether to allow for mandatory drug and alcohol testing.
Private sector employers say they are frustrated the federal Liberals haven’t given a meaningful response to concerns about increased workplace safety risk once cannabis is legalized.
Labour groups say existing labour code rules around impairment should suffice unless there is ample evidence that workers are showing up high and creating a safety risk.
“Nobody has put forward evidence of any kind that we have a major crisis on our hands,” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. “People are going to try it. We just have to make sure that doesn’t affect them when they come to work.”
The Liberals appear ready instead to focus efforts on education and awareness campaigns, details of which federal officials are expected to outline today.
“We have to be very diligent in the need to continue to inform workers ? that they can’t come to work in any way, shape or form impaired from cannabis or from any other substance,” Yussuff said.
Derrick Hynes, president of FETCO, an association of federally-regulated employers, says his members are not sure that education alone will close the safety gap that exists, which is why they want rules around drug testing for specific jobs where there is a risk to the public.
“We’ve never argued that the sky is falling,” Hynes said. “What we’re looking for here are preventative mechanisms that can change behaviour to ensure that those few instances where this might happen don’t slip through the cracks.”
There are currently no federal labour rules about drug and alcohol testing outside the military and successive governments from the late 1980s have stayed away from the issue.
Hynes says companies are trying to create their own policies on workplace impairment and substance use in the absence of any direct guidance from the federal government.