The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
Jailing one or two chief executive officers of companies where workers were killed on the job is all it would take to bring about the societal change necessary to finish what United Steelworkers started 40 years ago in Elliot Lake, says a union leader.
Enforcing the provisions of the Westray amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada, that hold CEOs and company directors criminally responsible for negligence causing a worker’s death, will demonstrate Canadians won’t accept workplace deaths as the cost of doing business.
Stephen Hunt, District 3 director for United Steelworkers and one of the officials spearheading USW’s “Stop the Killing: Enforce the Law” campaign, spoke to an audience of about 60 people Tuesday at the first day of a forum commemorating the 1974 Elliot Lake Miners’ Strike.
The three-week wildcat strike by more than 1,000 Steelworkers at Denison Mine prompted the provincial government to appoint a royal commission that resulted in the enactment of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The act still regulates workplace health and safety in Ontario four decades later.
But regulatory charges laid under acts like OHSA aren’t enough to prevent the deaths of 1,000 Canadians on the job every year, said Hunt.
That’s why his union fought 22 years ago, after an explosion killed 26 miners at Westray Coal Mine in New Glasgow, N.S., for federal statutes and legislation to hold corporations and directors responsible for workers’ needless deaths.
An emotional Hunt, who paused in his presentation two or three times and fought back tears when talking about workers’ deaths, said million-dollar fines, like the one Sudbury’s Vale paid last year in the deaths of two Sudbury men, are “bullshit.”
Vale made a plea deal with the Ministry of Labour, which laid nine charges against the company and six against one of its supervisors under OHSA, in the June 2011, deaths of Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, at Stobie Mine. The charges against the supervisor were withdrawn.
Hunt spoke about another company in British Columbia, where he lives, that paid a fine of close $1 million in two workers’ deaths.
“Why is it OK to kill a worker and pay a penalty that you just (write) off on your income tax as an employer? You just chalk it up to the (cost) of doing business,” said Hunt.
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