Mining review not good enough: Steelworkers – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – August 14, 2013)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

United Steelworkers Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand, and union health and safety representatives will meet Thursday with Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi to press their demand a full inquiry be called into mine safety in Ontario.

USW officials will go into the meeting convinced that Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government have “officially rejected” the call for a full-blown inquiry and are planning to announce a mining review be held instead.

The union said a senior government source informed them of Wynne’s decision not to hold an inquiry, similar to the one under way now into the June 2012 collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, in which two women were killed.

The source told the union the Liberals will instead announce plans for a review of mining practices “that falls short of the scope and standards of a commission of inquiry,” USW said in a news release.

The announcement about a review could come as early as this week, said the union. Bertrand called a review “an unacceptable alternative” to an inquiry. “It’s a disgrace this government believes it can placate miners, our families and our communities with its watered-down plan for a review,” said an angry Bertrand on his way to Toronto for the meeting with Naqvi.

When asked for comment Wednesday about USW’s claim Wynne has rejected an inquiry, her spokesman, Blane McPhail, said Naqvi is the “lead” on this issue.

Naqvi said he is looking forward to meeting with Steelworkers and talking about “how we can work together to address mining safety.

“We have much to discuss and I wish to hear their views on how we can protect the health and safety of all workers across Ontario,” he said in an email.

How to make mining safer is precisely what a full inquiry would do, said Bertrand.

The union began calling for it after its comprehensive investigation into the June 8, 2011 deaths of two men at Vale Ltd.’s Stobie Mine.

Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were killed when they were overcome with 350 tons of muck while working at the century- old mine’s 3,000-foot level. Their deaths occurred less than two days after Chenier complained to Vale about excess water in the mine and other unsafe conditions.

Nine charges were laid against Vale and one of its supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after the Labour ministry investigated the fatality. Those cases are being heard in court.

Naqvi has met with a lobby group spearheaded by Fram’s mother, Wendy Fram, called Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support (MINES). The group has garnered thousands of names on postcards and in an online petition calling for an inquiry to be held to improve mine safety.

The last such inquiry was held 30 years ago and hundreds of Ontario miners have been killed on the job since then, MINES has argued.

Bertrand questions the scope of a review and said it wouldn’t get to the “root problems” of why miners are still being injured and killed on the job.

If a review resulted in recommendations, he questions the weight they would have if not enshrined in legislation.

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