In the News April 28
April 28 Day of Mourning
Sean Staddon, Mining Worker
Sean Staddon is an Underground Electrician, and a United Steelworkers Local 6500 Shop Steward at Vale’s Totten Mine in Sudbury.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Westray mine disaster. In my industry, we have not seen real action from the justice system for anyone who is hurt or is killed at work in the 30 years since that catastrophe. We do not see the Westray Law being implemented when a worker is killed on the job. We do not see employers being deemed liable or criminally charged. They’ll work out some kind of plea bargain, pay a small survivor benefit and that’s it. No one ever gets criminally charged and sent to jail for negligence, even if the law spells out that they can be held criminally liable. That was why the steelworkers went into action when the Westray Disaster happened. It was sheer negligence 30 years ago that the owners of the Westray Mine did not take the workers’ health and safety concerns seriously. That’s why the mine exploded. Someone should have gone to jail for that.
Another major issue is the fact that the WSIB [Workplace Safety and Insurance Board] program in Ontario is broken. WSIB colludes with the employers to ensure that workers don’t get proper compensation when they get hurt at work. Over the last three or four decades, we’ve seen the rights of workers and proper compensation when people get hurt at work diminished, through this collusion of employers and the WSIB. This applies to almost every sector of the economy in Ontario and especially in heavy industry, where workers are prone to be injured at work.
As an example, let’s say a worker is injured in an equipment accident where they break their leg or suffer a torn muscle to the shoulder. The employer will go so far as to explain to the WSIB that this worker plays hockey outside, so his shoulder was probably already worn. They will say that they can’t fully compensate for that injury that he is saying happened at work, because in his outside life he puts that shoulder through tremendous wear. So instead of this worker getting the full compensation, the employer will deem it a non-workplace injury. That puts the onus on taxpayers to pay for this person, whereas the liability squarely falls on the employer for not having proper health and safety procedures at the workplace. WSIB is fully funded by the employers. When they won’t cover for the treatment, then it has to be paid by the provincial health care program, which is financed by the people of Ontario. It should be the responsibility of the employer to take care of that worker.
We also have people getting sick with occupational disease, because of chemicals being used that make them sick. It’s very hard to prove and the WSIB will do everything it can to declare that the employer is not responsible for the lung cancer that workers are contracting at work. One of the hardest things to prove to the WSIB is that a worker has contracted a disease at work. In mining, we’re talking cancers and COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
In our line of work, we’re constantly appealing WSIB decisions, advocating for the workers and doing all that work. It is actually industry’s practice in our sector, that if a worker gets injured they will go as far as to pay the worker to come in, send a taxi to their house, bring them in, have them doing meaningless work all day, send them home and pay them fully so that they do not have to have anything to do with WSIB. They do not want to have these lost time injuries because their insurance plan premiums could go up.
I worry a lot about the gig sector, about non-unionized and undocumented workers who get hurt at work, because they are just forgotten about. They do not even realize they have the right to appeal WSIB decisions. Actually, they do not even file workplace injury reports, as they are usually terminated by their employers if they get hurt. I’ve heard stories of workers in these sectors saying they wanted to file a workplace injury report and they had the employer threatening to fire them, so they worked through it.
The two issues, the Westray Law not being implemented and workers not getting the compensation they are entitled to when they are injured or made ill at work, make it clear to me that employers and government officials are colluding against the workers when it comes to disability rights, injuries, workplace diseases and fatalities at work. And it is happening on a grand scale.
With April 28 coming up, workers need to reaffirm their commitment to fight for the living. We have to involve the younger workers in organizing, putting the steward badge on, getting involved in the health and safety committees, speaking up for their brothers and sisters. The work on the front lines is very important.
1. On May 9, 1992, all 26 miners working in the Westray coal mine in Nova Scotia were killed when methane gas ignited, causing an explosion. Workers, union officials and government inspectors had all raised serious safety concerns before the tragedy, which the company had refused to act on. Workers across the country did tremendous work for 10 years to have the House of Commons pass a law whereby employers would be held criminally responsible when they cause workplace injuries and death. Commonly referred to as the Westray Law, former Bill C-45, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal liability of organizations), was passed by the House of Commons in 2003 and came into effect in 2004. It amended the Criminal Code to add Section 217.1, which reads: “Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.” The legislation also added Sections 22.1 and 22.2 to the Criminal Code, imposing criminal liability on organizations and their representatives for negligence and other offences.
Workers’ Forum, posted April 28, 2022.