The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is marking the 2012 Day of Mourning with the theme "Kill a Worker! Go to Jail!" The Day of Mourning this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Nova Scotia Westray mine disaster, the site of an underground methane explosion that took the lives of 26 workers. It also marks the 8th anniversary of the passing of Bill C-45 by the Canadian Parliament in 2004. Called the Westray Bill in memory of the Nova Scotia miners, it added new sections to the Criminal Code that imposed criminal liability on corporations and organizations that employ labour and whose negligence causes injuries and death to workers.
The CLC and its affiliates were instrumental in getting the federal government to pass the legislation but the 20th anniversary of the killing of the Westray miners is a stark reminder to workers that only a handful of criminal charges have been laid against corporations in spite of an increase in the number of fatalities from workplace accidents and occupational diseases. This stood at 1,014 in 2010 but includes only those fatalities that are officially recognized by governments and the compensation boards. The CLC reports that only two provinces so far, Ontario and Quebec, have laid charges under the Criminal Code, and only two employers have been convicted and fined for causing the death of an employee.
"We passed legislation in parliament to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to hold employers who fail to take steps to protect the lives of their employees criminally liable," said Andrea Peart, national representative of the CLC's health and safety department. "If provinces and territories are using the Westray legislation as intended, we could make significant inroads in protecting workers health and safety and, to be frank, we could save lives." Before next year's National Day of Mourning, the CLC's goal is to have a special prosecutor trained in corporate criminal negligence appointed in every province and territory, the same thing that has been done, it says, with drunk driving, drugs and gangs.
It was in response to this refusal to take action by the crown attorneys and police, the bodies entitled by Bill C-45 to lay the criminal charges, that the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) launched its campaign "Kill a Worker! Go to Jail!" in 2010. The campaign followed in the wake of the December 24, 2009 tragedy that claimed the lives of four construction workers who fell 13 storeys to their deaths from a scaffold on a Toronto building. A fifth worker barely survived. The campaign calls for criminal code investigations into all workplace fatalities. In Ontario at this time there is still only one ongoing criminal trial and that is over this tragedy. Yet, in the eight years since Bill C-45 was passed, OFL reports that more than 500 Ontario workers have been killed on the job and more than two million injured and not one Ontario employer has been criminally convicted or sent to jail. Last year alone, in Ontario, there were 436 fatality claims and 240,342 reported injuries.
"It is a disgraceful failure of the government and the courts that Bill C-45 has never resulted in the successful prosecution of an Ontario employer for a workplace death or injury," said OFL President Sid Ryan in the statement of the federation for the Day of Mourning this year. "We need a commitment from every police chief in Ontario that they will educate their forces on Bill C-45 Criminal Code provisions, conduct thorough investigations into workplace deaths and pursue employers to the fullest extent of the law. We need to stop the carnage in the workplace, now."
Workers are incensed that most companies when threatened with criminal prosecution immediately plead guilty to lesser charges laid under provincial occupational health and safety legislation, which leads to Criminal Code charges being dropped.
Across Canada, workers are using the Day of Mourning to renew their demand that monopolies be prosecuted when they cause fatalities. Among them are the Vale Inco workers in Sudbury. USW Local 6500 has produced a lengthy well-documented report that shows Vale's negligence in the death of two workers at the Stobie mine in Sudbury on June 8, 2011. Among their recommendations, which so far have met a cold reception from the Ontario government, is one that the Ontario deputy attorney general assess if criminal charges can be laid for causing the fatalities.
Workers attending Day of Mourning ceremonies are still in shock at the fatalities and injuries that occurred April 23 in the explosion and fire at the Lakeland Sawmill in Prince George, BC, the second deadly explosion and fire at a sawmill in BC since the beginning of the year. Still fresh too in workers' memories is the deadly road crash that killed 10 migrant workers and one truck driver in Ontario on February 6 for which workers are demanding justice. Unions and defence organizations immediately demanded a coroners' inquest into what happened but they have received no response.
"Nothing can bring back those who have died, but a message has to be sent that cutting corners on health and safety and employees being killed is not acceptable," says the CLC in its Day of Mourning statement. "If and when an employer willfully neglects health and safety, knowing that someone can be injured or killed -- they should be held criminally responsible. Corporations and their representatives need to be held accountable. As workers, we need to pressure our governments to use the Westray legislation as intended."
Declare an End to Workers Not Reporting Accidents
2011 Day of Mourning in Calgary.
Pipeline workers are very concerned about the situation
facing their sector of the construction industry in Alberta's oil
patch. Governments have a social responsibility to establish the
standards needed to safeguard construction workers' health and safety
and to hold the construction companies accountable.
In February of this year, another pipeline worker was killed on the job. He was crushed when the machine he was operating, a side boom tractor, flipped over into the ditch. The tractor he was operating was an older type, not equipped with a roll bar as the newer tractors are. This was the second side boom operator to die on the job on an Alberta pipeline project in the last few years. When a fatality occurs on a pipeline construction project, Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety takes over the scene. They effectively shut out the workers from giving any input or information, let alone providing the means through which workers can play any role in determining a future course for the better, one that would prevent such fatalities from ever occurring again. The issue of safety is multifaceted and many factors come into play that will ensure a safe and secure work environment. There is almost no training for new employees and so how are they to know what is a safe move and what is not. How is a worker new to pipeline construction to know exactly where dangers lie? Training for new workers consists of a three-hour orientation session. Predictably, more young workers are injured and killed on the job than any other age group.
A pipeline construction worker works a minimum of 10 hours a day, six days a week. However, the days can and usually are longer. Also, one can be made to work seven days a week for months on end. Some workers, mechanics for instance, often work over 100 hours a week, week in, week out. This fact alone calls into question the notion of worker safety. How can one work safely when one's faculties are impaired by exhaustion and lack of sleep? The hours pipeline construction workers put in are determined by the "requirements" of the job, not by their safety and well-being.
Adequate physical and mental rest are factors affecting the safety of pipeline workers. These are busy times in our sector. The oil and gas monopolies, as well as the big construction companies bemoan the fact that there is a shortage of qualified workers in the industry, a shortage that will become more acute in the coming years, due to demographic and other factors. There is no comprehensive plan anywhere that deals with the issue of proper training for pipeline workers. But the danger of being badly injured or killed is ever present, showing the real need for training of pipeline construction workers.
The construction industry is notorious for injuries and deaths. It accounts for approximately one-third of all workplace fatalities. According to Alberta government statistics, in the years 2004 to 2008 alone, 253 construction workers were killed on the job.
Over the years, many pipeline construction workers have been killed on the job:
- A welder's helper was working with an electric grinder. A lace on his jacket got tangled in the spinning disc, the grinder was instantly pulled back towards him, cut his jugular vein and he bled to death in seconds.
- A worker was in the trench when that trench collapsed and pressed around him from all sides. Although he was only buried to mid-waist and conscious, the pressure was so great that he soon lost consciousness and died.
- An operator was performing a bit of servicing on his side boom when his heavy winter clothing became tangled in the controls for his machine's counterweight and he was instantly crushed to death.
Construction workers deeply mourn the loss of all workers who are killed on the job. It is the deep desire and demand of all workers and their families that this tragic loss of life come to an end and yet the loss of life continues. The excuses given for this situation are many and varied but the underlying reason is always the same: these corporations are motivated by maximum profit not workers' health and safety.
How to deal with this intolerable situation? Hackneyed statements from the employer about "concern for workers' safety" do nothing to rectify the situation. Governments have refused to deal with such an intolerable situation and need to be held to account. Instead, they facilitate the oil and gas companies' plunder of the natural resources which belong to the people and the exploitation of our construction workers. The solution to the problem will not come from government, nor from the construction companies. The solution will come from us. Workers must develop their organization to a sufficient level so as to be able to enforce proper safety measures and proper training. We need to develop enough strength to ensure that our workplaces remain workplaces and stop becoming places where workers are slaughtered. In my opinion, we the workers have to see to it that all measures necessary to ensure our safety on the job are enforced.
Mike McCauley, the side boom operator killed on a job site close to Fort McMurray in late February while working for Banister Pipelines, was 57-years old. Surely the man had dreams of finally retiring, of enjoying his later years with his family and loved ones. All that came suddenly to an end one morning when a mechanical problem on an obsolete machine took his life. This is not the way things ought to be and pipeline construction workers and the entire Workers' Opposition must make sure that this slaughter comes to an end.
The slogan "We Need a New Direction for the Economy" has special meaning indeed for the pipeline construction workers!
Electronic surveillance as a weapon of the monopolies to increase the work pace and the exploitation of the working class is nothing new. One need only recall the famous scene from the Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times, in which we see Chaplin on an assembly line with other workers and the capitalist entrepreneur sitting comfortably in his office observing a series of TV screens filming sections of the factory in which his workers produce. One sees the capitalist employer turn to the screens and give orders to the foreman to increase the production rate. The rest is history: the pace becomes so fast that Chaplin goes crazy and gets caught up in all the gears of the machinery.
Today, the use of electronic surveillance has become the norm for the monopolies that control the most productive sectors of the economy. Electronic monitoring has become very effective, partly due to technological advances of recent decades. Electronic monitoring of workers varies enormously from one workplace to another but it can be done via conventional cameras, sophisticated radar systems, computer chips and audio systems amongst other ways.
The phenomenon of electronic surveillance has expanded rapidly following the September 2001 attacks in New York. The U.S. War on Terror has been used as a pretext for many new security measures introduced by companies that do business with the U.S. These measures directly affect the lives of workers. In agriculture, bio-security measures, directly under the control of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cover the main production facilities in Quebec. These measures permit, among other things, any U.S. inspector to give information directly to the monopolies on the security measures of any given location. Whether they are a security fence around the facility, a restricted access program, video surveillance, personnel identification programs for workers or the proliferation of security guards, these measures become the obligatory conditions required to do business with the United States, under threat of losing clearance licenses. Monopolies also use these new measures to supposedly protect against theft, vandalism and other misdeeds, as if the workers were criminals.
In addition to security measures to increase surveillance, monopolies have established working methods to maximize productivity and work efficiency. Every second of production is subject to close monitoring, which requires workers to keep up or increase the pace of work at the expense of their health and safety and that of others.
Here is another fraudulent reason given for increased electronic surveillance of workers. According to the monopolies capital-centred vision, workers are a production cost. Therefore, the monopolies demand that every second of a worker's time must serve production. Electronic monitoring is used to control the workers' lives and prevent so-called abuse and wasted time in production.
For monopolies, any excuse will do to intensify electronic surveillance and the reasons are all very high-sounding and righteous. But the experience of the working class says the opposite. Whether under the pretext of security, productivity, efficiency or to counter so-called fraud, the results are the same for workers everywhere: increased daily stress and the criminalization in all sorts of ways. This includes electronic records in workers' personnel files. Management constantly evaluates their behaviour according to categories of attitude, errors, productivity and performance. For the workers this surveillance results in a loss of autonomy and freedom of movement, the anxiety of being constantly watched and the violation of their privacy.
The aim of electronic surveillance is to step up the rates of production which inevitably leads to an increase in the number and severity of accidents. Electronic surveillance is also done in a manner which serves to deprive the working class of its dignity. It creates a work climate that directly attacks the dignity of work itself and the human quality of workers. Psychological problems and mental illnesses have increased incredibly and continue to grow.
The Workers' Opposition must address the problem of electronic surveillance if it wants to exercise control over its working and living conditions and improve safety in the workplace. We must not wait until we're as crazy as Charlie Chaplin and caught in the gears of the machinery.
(Translated from original French by TML)
The following item is an extract from the report produced by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada entitled "The Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada 2010-2011."
As a frontline advocate and service bureau to tens of thousands of migrant workers, the AWA (Agriculture Workers Alliance) has developed as key resource in the research and assessment of workplace health and safety risks facing migrant workers. The picture is dangerous and dismaying, as employer and legislative obstacles force migrant workers to choose between their health -- or providing for their families.
In 2010, CERIS (the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement) released a research report on health status, risks and needs of migrant farm workers in Ontario.
The research was based on over 600 interviews, conducted in the 2009 season with migrant agriculture workers who were introduced to the project through the AWA.
Almost half of the workers responded that working while sick or injured was common practice because of the fear of employer reprisal or repatriation.
Nearly half of respondents who were ordered to work with chemicals and pesticides reported they were not supplied the necessary protection such as gloves, masks, and goggles.
Most workers had received no health and safety training at all.
Only 24% of workers injured on the job made claims to workers compensation. Workers who did not make claims typically cited fear of being docked pay, repatriated, or being blacklisted from returning the next season. So even though the Occupational Health and Safety Act was extended in 2006 to cover farm workers (as a direct result of UFCW Canada legal action) migrant agricultural workers remain fearful of exercising their provincially legislated right to refuse to perform unsafe work because under the CSAWP (Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program) the worker's employer can simply have them repatriated for exercising this fundamental right.
While health and safety coverage may be in place, the reality is that until the threat of arbitrary repatriation is alleviated, many migrant agricultural workers will fail to take advantage of their right to refuse unsafe or hazardous work. In Alberta, they have no right at all. That province continues to exclude all outdoor agriculture workers from protection under health and safety legislation; this in spite of a 2008 judicial inquiry that recommended ending the exclusion immediately. The recommendation, delivered in 2009, followed the work related fatality of an Alberta agriculture worker; one of 170 workers who have died accidentally on Alberta farms since 1980.
In BC, the Liberal government has also reduced employment standards and failed to enforce safety regulations concerning agricultural workers -- including a 2008 coroner's recommendation regarding safe transportation of farm workers after a ten-person van jammed with the 17 agriculture workers flipped and crashed, killing three of the workers. BC's efforts to ensure their employers provide health and safety training to migrant workers has also been deficient. A recent study by WorkSafeBC, and Guelph and Sir Wilfred Laurier universities, in partnership with the AWA centres in BC revealed that over 70% of migrant agricultural workers received no health and safety training whatsoever.
Clearly, the health and safety of migrant agricultural workers is not a high priority for many of the employers, provinces, or for the federal government. It is a dangerous and callous attitude.
Since 2001 UFCW Canada has recommended in every report submitted to the Canadian government that it establish eligibility criteria for all provinces wishing to participate in the CSAWP on behalf of their farm owners. One essential criterion for participation should be that migrant farm workers be aggressively protected under provincial health-and-safety legislation in order for that province and its farm employers to participate in the CSAWP. To date the federal government has refused to act on this recommendation.
On April 25, the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) sent a letter of condolence to the workers of the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, BC. through their union, Local 1-424 USW. The letter conveyed the Party's deepest condolences to the families, loved ones and fellow workers of the two workers killed in the explosion and fire at the Lakeland Sawmill and sincere wishes for the complete recovery of the twenty-two workers who were injured in this tragic event. "Our hearts go out to all of you and the people of Prince George who are deeply affected by this," the Party wrote.
Local 1-424 USW represents the workers at both the Babine Lake sawmill in Burns Lake and the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, a total of 425 workers. The Babine Lake mill was destroyed in an explosion on January 20. Only half the Babine Lake workers have found another job while many loggers and truck drivers have been idled. The cause of the explosion remains unknown. Just three months later on April 23, a similar explosion destroyed the Lakeland Mills operation. In total, these two tragedies killed four workers and injured many others as well as destroying the livelihoods of the workers.
In its letter, the Party repeated its concern also for those affected by the explosion and fire at the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake in which two workers died and nineteen were injured. The Party supported the demand of the union for answers and actions so that such events shall never be repeated. "In this regard, we fully support the demand of the United Steelworkers for the provincial authorities to properly investigate the cause of these tragedies and to immediately release relevant information to workers, unions and sawmill operators to ensure all measures are taken to avoid further tragedies," the letter said.
TML: Worksafe BC has issued an order to clean up the mills of sawdust. How many mills in your local does the WCB order affect?
Frank Everitt: There are 19 operations in our local.
TML: Will the order to clean sawdust in the mills issued by Worksafe BC and the Minister of Labour cause mills to close down for a period to do that work?
FE: I don't believe they'll shut down all the operations. I suspect that most will do cleanup on the weekends when they are not operating.
TML: Have your members expressed any anxiety about working in the mills while the cause of the two explosions is still undetermined?
Community meeting in Burns Lake, shortly after the January 20, 2012 explosion at the Babine Lake Sawmill.
FE: Yes, there is no doubt that people
are nervous. Some workers have expressed serious
concern about whether they should return to work in the forest
industry. A number of workers have said they think they should take a
chance to change industries. Many workers are very angry and demand
that someone must be held accountable
for these tragedies. Generally workers are demanding to know when such
incidents will stop.
TML: Worksafe BC contracted-out inspection to International Quest Engineering which had both Babine Lake Sawmill and Lake Land sawmills as clients. Does the fact that a third party is responsible for safety and risk management play a role in these tragedies?
FE: At this point we're not fully aware of the consequences of this situation. It is one of the things we are looking into more closely.
TML: Has your union made any statement about the need to ensure the safety of the remaining sawmills?
FE: A letter from the USW demanding an immediate meeting of the union, industry and government resulted in a special meeting on April 25. The result was the broad-based order from Worksafe BC issued for risk assessment [in all the sawmills] as soon as possible. If the mills are not cleaned in accordance with the order then we will demand additional orders. Finally, we are demanding a stop-work order so that safe operations are ensured.
TML: Have the companies taken any immediate action to date?
FE: Yes, some of the mills are taking a pro-active approach to ensuring their operations are cleaned up and operating safely. However, as USW Wood Council Chair Bob Matters said in his interview with Co-Op Radio, other companies take an accounting approach to the problem, trying to add up how many dollars it will cost the company to clean up.
TML: What is your number one concern today?
FE: We want and demand a safe operation for our members to work in, so that workers come home in the same condition they were in when they went to the job site.
On the occasion of April 28, what strikes me is the fact that although every year in Quebec over 200 workers die from injuries and occupational diseases, this never makes front-page news. It looks like in Quebec it has become acceptable that over 200 workers are killed every year.
2011 Day of Mourning in Quebec City: "213 people were killed at work in Quebec in 2010"
Also, a culture is now being imposed by the global monopolies, which is to blame and use repression against workers who get injured at work. More and more we see disciplinary action being used against workers who are injured. A culture of prevention is being replaced by a culture of repression. This is happening at Rio Tinto, among other places. I was the union's health and safety representative for eight years and I have never seen discipline related to health and safety issues used to such an extent. The company does not consider workers intelligent people with an interest in working safely. It resorts to repression right away, instead of health and safety education. Workers are human beings, not machines. They can be educated.
Workers are not the ones who decide how production is carried out. It is the employers that decide. They run the industries and therefore it is their responsibility to provide healthy and safe workplaces. Blaming health and safety problems on the workers' behaviour or their bad habits, because they smoke, use drugs or have family problems, does not solve the problems of health and safety hazards.
For me, this is a real culture shock. I see it as a result of the increasing take over of our industries by huge foreign multinationals. It is a culture of "top-down" decision-making. Decisions are made by people overseas and under the hoax of globalization we are told there is a standard somewhere that has to be applied the same way everywhere. That is the pretext being used to refuse to deal with workers as human beings.
The result is that workers become anxious about facing repression and do not report health hazards. Secondly, a trend is developing of not reporting injuries. A false belief is spread by these large corporations that repression delivers better results. In fact, results are not better because the hazards and the injuries get camouflaged. How is it possible that on one hand the number of fatalities keeps increasing, but on the other, the number of injuries is decreasing? We can't trust the figures anymore. How is it possible that in workplaces declared injury-free, you see workers in offices on crutches or in wheelchairs?
The problem is worse for contract workers because they are a disposable workforce. When they get injured, a quick phone call to the contractor is made to request another worker be sent right away and to make sure nobody knows about the injury. This is taking things back 40 years. We can see it even in the way contract workers are forced to work with methods and conditions that put them under extreme pressure. They are contract workers, meaning the contractor has to save all the money it can as it may have bid very low to get the contract. It is the workers who pay for all that!
We are also facing a radical overhaul of the joint health and safety system in Quebec. The joint health and safety committees required by law still exist but more and more only as a formality. Global multinationals that come to Quebec set up their own management health and safety committees. The management-only health and safety committees make all the decisions and then the joint committees are supposed to rubber stamp them.
In our work, we fight this philosophy of blaming workers for their injuries. We mobilize the workers with the view that it is the company's responsibility to provide safe workplaces. We educate the workers to work safely, we inform them about proper procedures.
(Translated from original French by TML Daily)
The Day of Mourning is a very sombre day. It is a day
recognize the sacrifices that individuals and families have made for
the profits of big business. Big business has always attacked our
members, the people that we know, some who have paid the ultimate
sacrifice for their greed. You look at
the three individuals in Sudbury and one in Thompson, Manitoba who died
on the job in less than a year. This is a day where we recognize their
contribution to society and on that day we focus especially on the
families. We mourn the dead and fight for the living. In Sudbury, the
Sudbury and District Labour Council
does a morning ceremony and then the steelworkers hold a lunch. About
300 people attend the events: workers, community members, families,
politicians. Leo Gerard, the International President of the United
Steelworkers, comes to make a speech, we lay flowers in memory of
who passed away in the past
year, we have a firemen's choir that sings a few songs. It is a very
As you know, on June 8, 2011 two workers died at the Vale Inco Stobie Mine in the Sudbury district when an uncontrolled torrent of wet ore material, or run of muck, burst out an ore pass and buried them. There was also one fatality at the Coleman mine in the Sudbury district at the end of January this year and one in Thompson, Manitoba in October last year. All four fatalities were at Vale Inco operations. We have produced a lengthy report on the fatalities at the Stobie Mine and have concluded that they were totally preventable. The inspectors of the Ministry of Labour were brought in a number of times to deal with concerns over conditions that led to these two fatalities. This type of fatality occurred in 1996 at the same mine where the same circumstances prevailed -- water in the muck -- and a worker passed away. Recommendations were made at that time and had they been fully implemented the chances of these fatalities occurring again would have been reduced greatly.
We are also saying that there is a cultural issue involved here. We went through a year-long strike and upon our return the company took a hard-nosed stand towards us workers. We were totally at opposite ends of the bridge upon our return, the morale had been greatly reduced and it is slowly getting back. People have been fired for next to nothing including on health and safety issues.
They implemented a new safety program which we believe is a behaviour-based type of program. It was actually implemented during the strike and when we came back it was imposed on us. There has been a lot of discipline around safety-related issues, there have been discharges not only for your day-to-day activity but for health and safety related issues.
It was not like that prior to the strike. We were encouraged then to identify and report hazards. We had a reporting system that we call the "079 form," that was encouraged prior to the strike but when we returned, the reporting, the whole 079 system had been removed. The workers were not allowed to implement 079 on their own. You have to go to your supervisors. It is a supervisor's discretion to report conditions, which makes no sense at all. So the supervisors say, To hell with it, they are not reporting. It was a total change in direction from what we used to do to what we are doing now.
In our report, we concluded that Vale was guilty of negligence towards the Stobie Mine fatalities. Our two main recommendations are that the government of Ontario establish a public inquiry into the cause of these fatalities and more generally into underground mine safety in Canada, and that Ontario's Assistant Deputy Attorney General take immediate steps to determine whether criminal charges can be laid against company officials.
We are asking that the public inquiry assess mining safety in the whole country because we have seen a number of changes especially with a lot of foreign ownership that has come into the country. They have brought their way of doing business into Canada and I am looking at Vale specifically. We have been discussing with other workers and found out that the same thing prevails at companies like Xstrata.
There is a constant attack against workers. Our present pro-business federal government has attacked the federal workers with back-to-work legislation. The attacks are starting at the very top. Subsequently there is a morale issue, health and safety issues, many workers are taking these problems home and it affects their family life. Socially and morally this is the wrong thing to do. A happy workforce is a productive workforce and more importantly a safe workforce.
On April 28, we look not only at the fatalities but at people who are constantly under attack through industrial diseases, working with asbestos. It is our day to reflect on these important issues.
Memorial to the 1929 Falconbridge disaster in Sudbury.
One of our main concerns in the mines is the program that Xstrata is pushing called Zero Harm -- it is their biggest project. It is a program where health and safety is integrated into a system of monetary incentives to the workers. It is part of a performance evaluation program in which health and safety is one component. If a worker has any reportable injuries and incidents, then it affects that part of their performance evaluation and the worker could receive less money because of it. It does at some point have a deterrent effect on reporting, especially on reporting close calls, because we all know that close calls need to be reported in order to prevent injuries from happening. Even though the stated aim of the policy is to achieve zero harm it is not achievable because they pressure workers not to report certain issues. The company promotes that it is looking after everybody's health, making sure no one gets hurt and that everybody goes home safely every single day. Publicly, it is probably trying its best, but the program itself could be set up to fail on its own if the workers decide not to report, because it may affect their bottom line. We keep promoting that everybody must report everything so that we can prevent any further incidents and we promote working safely and making sure everyone goes home at the end of each and every day to their family and friends.
We also have the issue of people dying from occupational diseases; that does not go away. We get a little more coverage now because people realize more and more that their disease may be work-related and we have more claims going in. Unfortunately we are not in a very good situation with the Workplace Safety Insurance Board. It is always a battle for our workers to get the Board to approve their claims as work-related. Lots of these diseases are lung-related or skin-related because of chemicals workers work with and it is hard to get these diseases established as being work-related. We are working on that all the time.
Xstrata is abdicating its responsibility in health and safety and shifting it onto the workers. About a year ago, the company introduced work permits in the plant. When a worker, whether a contract worker or a regular employee, is sent to a part of the plant to do maintenance work, a worker in that area has to sign a work permit for this worker declaring that he has been informed of all the safety procedures involved in the task he has to do. There is a checklist on the permit: Did the worker wear his safety gloves and other equipment, was he informed of the safety procedures if he was assigned electrical work and so on. The worker from that area signs that Yes, this worker was informed of all the procedures. The worker who signs the permit does this as part of his shift. Sometimes he has to sign many permits during a shift, in addition to his shift workload. With this work permit, the company protects itself from being sued if an accident happens because it will tell the worker who signed the permit that he is responsible because he signed that the worker was informed of what he had to do safety-wise. According to Xstrata, the role of the permit is to educate the worker coming into that area to do maintenance but one manager openly said, Yes, it is to make you aware of health and safety but it is possible we may use the permit in the case of a legal action. The union demanded that work permits be optional but it was not successful and they are now mandatory.
Workers are routinely blamed for bad behaviour and are disciplined when they get injured but the company does not look into the source of the problems, the hazards that are the cause of the injury. It has a zero injury policy. It produces its data on injury-free hours worked at the plant but these are only figures and you can give figures any meaning you want. For example, when workers get injured and they are put on modified duties, the injury is not included in the figures.
(Translated from original French by TML Daily)
In the past two years we've had two fatalities on the job site resulting from accidents. One worker, a contractor, was a linesman who got electrocuted, and one was from the local -- one of my close friends -- who fell from a platform. The biggest thing for me is to make sure that the company follows all the safety legislation, that it keeps the dust levels down because we also have a major problem here with silica levels and of course asbestos is a key thing for us. A lot of our members have passed away because of silicosis and asbestosis. In some areas of our job site, places have been shutdown because they exceed the threshold limit value and they can't get the dust levels down. So either our workers have to wear special respirators most of the time or they only go to work if there is an emergency. This is happening in different areas of the project -- it depends on how much silica is actually there. A lot of it is because some of the ore has a higher level of silica but it's also sometimes to do with lack of manpower and lack of clean-up. Some of the dust collectors are old, probably 30-40 or 50 years old -- they are not up to date. A lot of the equipment is worn out and not good enough to keep the dust levels down. Things need to be properly cleaned up. This is a major issue because the company has reduced our workforce quite a bit.
On April 28, we hold a ceremony. I am also the President of the District Labour Council and I will be giving a speech for the occasion. We hold a minute of silence and we remember all those that passed away. We remind ourselves to work safely, wear our safety equipment and watch out for one another. Our job site is huge: there are over 1,400 workers. We have trucks that haul 300 tons of ore and the tires are sometimes the size of a house. One mess-up can kill someone pretty fast. We have to keep an eye out, be careful and stay focused.
It is a long standing tradition for us on April 28 to recognize the importance of workers who lost their lives, got sick or injured at work and it is a time for us to recognize the hazards that are there in the workplaces. More importantly, one issue that is not so high-profile that people don't think about as much are the people who have occupational diseases or disabilities from injuries -- people who come out of the workplace with work-related cancers or with a permanent or partial disability. We have had a number of cases of people with asbestosis in the past years, there are still people who've retired that end up with asbestos-related diseases. There is also a variety of different cancers that we see. The problem that we have with certain types of cancers is that there may not yet be any accepted proof that they are work-related. It is difficult to get the Workplace Safety Insurance Board to recognize that they are work-related.
We are quite open with U.S. Steel, that the union has a fundamental difference with the company in our philosophy on safety. They have a behaviour-based safety program. The steelworkers have gone on record to say that in Canada we are against behaviour-based safety. Companies with behaviour-based safety programs are always looking to blame the worker if there is an accident. The worker must have done something wrong. We say that the workers best understand how to do the jobs most safely. If you listen to the workers they will tell you the safest way to do the jobs. With the philosophy of U.S. Steel and other corporations, they want to tell you the safest way to do the jobs and then outfit you with all kinds of personal protective equipment, whereas we say that if the equipment corresponds to a specific hazard let us look at ways to control the situation at the source. That is our philosophy.
U.S. Steel creates a culture where people are afraid to report accidents. It comes down to things that the union does not believe in, like getting rewarded if you don't have accidents or going so many days without getting injured. We don't look at things that way. It's part of the culture of behaviour-based safety. It creates an atmosphere not to report injuries. They try to build up a bureaucracy where people don't like to report. It starts with small injuries not being reported because there is such a bureaucracy, you have to go through three-four hours of investigation so you say, Let’s forget about it. But while it is a small injury this time, let's say a small cut on your finger, next time you might lose a hand because what was wrong at the source is not fixed. That is why a lot of these companies, and it is not just U.S. Steel, don't get a lot of small injuries but when something happens and it is something big, it might be related to the little stuff that was not fixed and can lead to tragedies. Behaviour-based safety gives you a false reading of what is going on. That atmosphere of blaming the worker can be taken very far. We had a couple of guys who were just involved with work refusals in our coke ovens. After the work refusal, the company found a reason, and they say it is not a result of the work refusal, to fire one of the guys. They will argue that it was the result of something else but a company like that with so many rules and regulations can virtually dig up something on anyone.
We need to basically educate all workers of their rights. We need to work together and make sure that our rights are upheld. Now more than ever it is important for the workers to understand and stand up for their rights in health and safety.
In Fort McMurray we have been honouring the Day of Mourning since 1991, mostly in response to the CLC position on the Day of Mourning. We have taken that message to the people of Fort McMurray since then. On April 28, we gather at the Memorial Monument in one of our public parks. We invite the labour movement and others to join us. For example, we have succeeded in having the Canadian Association of Safety Engineers and other groups join us. We have a ceremony every year and my message at the ceremony has been about our recommitment to health and safety. Year after year I keep repeating the numbers, but the numbers don't seem to be getting any better. We still basically have the same number of fatalities and injuries year after year across Canada.
In Fort McMurray we take an approach of convincing industry that the health and safety of the workers and the people of the area is a priority and we have framed this in language they are able to hear, which is in terms of the cost of injuries to their businesses. There are many other messages we are bringing forward. It is not just about having the right rules and procedures and equipment to make sure the work is safe, it is about the whole well-being of the people working there, the communities and so forth. We are talking about health and safety and this brings a whole lot of new challenges. The challenge in the oil sands is to find out what are the effects of the oil sands on the health of the people that work there and on the communities. For instance, we know that upstream north of Fort McMurray on Lake Athabasca, in the community of Fort Chipewyan, the difficulties they have with higher than normal rates of some cancers, has been quite well-publicized. They are being supported by a local doctor who has taken on that fight. He was barred from the College of Physicians of Alberta for his stand on the issue and reinstated afterward. Our local supported the doctor and the concerns of the community and out of that came more studies on the river and its basin, and more monitoring of air quality. We still have issues around the validity of the testing but we are making good ground keeping the industry on alert that it is not enough to give us your samples; we need to have valid third party scientific assessment as well.
The difficulty is that while we are studying the effects on the river we are still allowing more and more developments and therefore more instances of whatever has been causing the health issues, without getting to the answers first. The National Energy Board is still issuing permits to people to develop the oil sands without having answers on the impact it has on people in the communities. We are not suggesting we have to shut down the tar sands; that is not what we are saying. We of the CEP as a union have said we need to develop this resource sustainably, that we have to take our time and do it properly.
It is a huge problem for injured workers to get their compensation. It was hard enough before and injured workers had to go through all kinds of litigation but it is even more severe now. They are putting up more road blocks and denying more claims. I am talking specifically about the compensation system in Ontario but I think it is happening across Canada.
Any compensation system is designed to curb the amount of claims that come to its door. We are experiencing that here in Ontario, under current Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) CEO David Marshall. The focus is on reducing what is called the "unfunded liability" of the system and it is being done at the expense of workers. It is not just denying claims; it is denying benefits in general across the board. They take a little bit here, a little bit there at every level. It winds up being a big saving for them at the end of the day. It might be medical, for example denying physiotherapy or saying that the injured worker has reached maximum medical recovery. Under Marshall, WSIB is looking under every rock to find a penny. The law has not changed. The KPMG consultants report that was ordered by the WSIB in 2010 has put recommendations forward in that regard as to what they think should be done and it seems Marshall is just implementing them.
KPMG says the fact that the amount of claims has been reduced in Ontario is a success in terms of health and safety but we say that shows you are denying claims. It has nothing to do with health and safety. It has more to do with claims adjudication. All they are doing is denying the workers benefits. According to the KPMG review, from 2009-2010, WSIB has increased its rate of denial for new claims from 7.9 per cent to 11.3 per cent as a result of so-called specialized training and management oversight. This is nearly a 50 per cent increase in claim denials. They are being more stringent and managers are looking at the claims and asking, "Did you allow that claim? Deny it." WSIB cut $631 million in benefits between September 2010 and September 2011. These are their own numbers, they are numbers from the Board.
David Marshall, under the oversight of Premier McGuinty, I guess, has been hired as a banker to reduce the unfunded liability and it was promised it would not be done on the backs of the injured workers, yet everything we are seeing is on the backs of the injured workers. WSIB also laid off 365 staff so how do you provide better service? This is 365 out of about 4,000 employees that have been laid off. It is a large number and these people are primarily front line workers, these are the adjudicators. They did not layoff management. WSIB is heading toward auto-adjudication; they want to automate adjudication. Workers will go on line and the computer will tell them if their claim is allowed or denied. There is an austerity agenda at the Board. It is worse than what happened under Mike Harris. McGuinty broke his promises to the injured workers that he would not reduce the injured workers’ benefits.
ONIWG is fighting to stop this train that is rolling and that rolled out of the station before we knew it. The KPMG report came out last year and they have been implementing it since then; we did not get hold of it until October. We are planning protests every Friday. Starting May 4 we are going to be in front of WSIB doing information pickets, letting people know what is happening to their compensation system. You must have seen the stickers "It Is Our Ontario!" We are saying, "It Is Our Compensation System!" We still believe in the compensation system, it is the way it is being run that we are opposed to.
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