Workers Speak Out About Their Concerns
The Right of Workers in the Mining Sector and All Others to Healthy and Safe Working Conditions
– Interview with André Racicot, Abitibi Mine Worker and President of Quebec United Steelworkers Local 9291 –
As a worker, my main concern right now is health and safety in the mines. There have been a lot of mine shaft collapses recently and situations that worry many mineworkers with regard to work site control. There is also concern about what is going on in the Labour Standards, Pay Equity, and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) inspection service. In order to separate politics from workplace health and safety, we have demanded the Board establish an ombudsman.
Certain policies emanating from the Board’s central leadership undermine the work of mining inspectors. For example, the regulations for onsite interventions are not necessarily applied. Upon further investigation we have found that politics is interfering in the decisions of inspectors. Increasingly, the recommendations made by inspectors in accident investigation cases are being subjected to control — those who exercise control may decide to remove certain aspects that run counter to what the Board’s central leadership wants. Inspectors have told me that some of what they write in the reports is being withdrawn. We are not going to let that pass. We are going to exert pressure. We are going to persist in demanding that the CNESST’s inspection service be provided with an ombudsman. We want inspections independent of, not subject to, political pressure.
We approached the CNESST management through its Board of Directors because we have representatives on the Board, but we were basically ignored. Although we did intervene on a number of occasions, nothing much has changed. We began meeting with people close to the Ministry of Labour so that action would be taken. This whole situation is a huge concern to the workers.
The Quebec United Steelworkers passed a resolution on this matter at our annual meeting in November 2018. The resolution was adopted by all activists present, over 500 people.
Accident prevention is the big loser in all this. If the inspection service is prevented from issuing recommendations or correction notices, the reality is that prevention is being thrown out the window. Without prevention, we cannot eliminate the risk of accidents.
The inspection service is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations. Despite the fact that that is the duty of inspectors, even though I cannot swear to it because I am not part of the Board’s higher echelons, I believe the inspectors are limited in their actions. They should have freedom to act and freedom of choice and be able to sanction employers at fault.
Prevention is important because there are so many deaths, over 200 work-related deaths in Quebec per year. Those people are no longer here to speak. We are still here. It is our duty to push this intervention with the Board so that prevention, real prevention, is taken up. Workers have the right to work under safe conditions.
We often hear that “it is the worker’s fault.” I have often carried out accident investigations, and I know that in 85 per cent of cases, work organization is responsible for accidents. It has been proven. All those involved in training are unanimous on this. They say that 85 per cent of accidents are related to work organization, planning, and structure. Are risk analyses performed? Is safety part of planning or is it all just about productivity? Increasingly, we are pushed to go faster, to be more productive. Is it done at the expense of safety? That is the question we must all ask ourselves.
I believe that prevention will always have its place. Accidents can be prevented. We definitely undertake investigations to find solutions, but it is a reactive measure. What we want is a proactive preventive measure. We must be able to find solutions before an accident occurs. We keep insisting that we want an ombudsman, so that the inspection service is freed from the claws of the legal service, the claws of politics. Clearly the political will to change the situation must be there.
All workers, whether unionized or not, must speak with one voice in saying that we want to work in a safe environment. For that to happen, employers must cooperate with us in finding solutions so that accidents do not happen. Inspectors must be able to do their work without any impediments or limitations imposed on them.
In 2019, at the dawn of 2020, it is unacceptable that in Quebec there are 200 work-related deaths per year.
1. At their Annual General Meeting held November 21-23, 2018, Quebec United Steelworkers unanimously adopted a resolution regarding the CNESST inspection service. After a series of examples that highlight interventions by CNEEST management to impede freedom of action by inspectors, the resolution reads as follows:
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Quebec United Steelworkers, together with the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ), make representations to the Quebec Ministry of Labour to prevent any actions and political obstacles by CNESST management that interfere with the Inspection Service during accident investigations and the implementation of the regulations and statements of offence.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Quebec United Steelworkers, together with the FTQ, put pressure on CNESST to ensure that its Inspection Service is protected by an ombudsman to counter the interference of CNESST management so as to provide inspectors with the necessary latitude to carry out their preventive work.