November 12th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 44
Labour union appeals to council for help enforcing Westray amendments
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
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Crowsnest Pass Municipal Council
Pass Herald Reporter
On May 8, 1992, at about 5:18 a.m., beneath the town of Plymouth, N.S., a mixture of methane gas and coal dust exploded killing 26 miners at the Westray mine.
Only 15 miners’ bodies were ever recovered.
A public inquiry into the disaster concluded that the deaths resulted from mismanagement as mine managers disregarded health and safety regulations and coerced miners into working in unsafe conditions.
“There had been a lot of complaints about health and safety but because they were the only industry in town the employer held the upper hand,” said Alex Hanson, United Steel Workers (USW) President of Local 9346 in a presentation to council on Nov. 4. “The workers were told they were replaceable if they didn’t want to go down the mine.”
In the wake of the disaster amendments were made to the criminal code to make it easier to hold corporate executives and corporations criminally liable for serious workplace injuries and fatalities. These became known as the Westray amendments.
Hanson and Steve Kallies, USW Vice President of Local 9346, explained that not one person has ever gone to jail for violating the Westray law, but that the number of people killed on the job in Canada has been increasing.
“Over 1000 Canadians are killed on the job every year,” said Kallies. “It’s one of the worst records in the developed world.”
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As of 2013, there have been only three successful prosecutions under the Westray amendments for criminal negligence charges that resulted in the death or injury of a worker. The sentences were relatively minor.
“We’ve got that law on the books but unfortunately it’s got no teeth. Nobody’s utilizing it,” said Hanson. “The RCMP are not being instructed to go to where there are workplace disasters and investigate in such a way that the evidence collected will hold up in a court of law.”
Hanson and Kallies asked council to support their campaign to enforce the Westray amendments. They also want Crown prosecutors and police to be better educated and trained to apply the amendments and for safety regulators to reach out to the police if charges are warranted.
“We’re very cognizant of the fact that the Crowsnest Pass is no stranger to mining disasters, of course you just recognized the hundred year anniversary of the tragedy in Hillcrest,” said Kallies.
Mayor Blair Painter thanked the union representatives for their presentation and said the subject would be revisited at a later council discussion. He also said that two of his schoolmates were killed in the Westray disaster. Both were born in Coleman.
November 12th ~ Vol. 84 No. 44
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