Families, community need answers on lack of criminal prosecution and accountability in workplace deaths: Steelworkers
SUDBURY, ON, Oct. 27, 2016 /CNW/ - In the aftermath of another plea-bargain deal and million-dollar fine for mining giant Vale, the United Steelworkers (USW) is calling for the Ontario government, Attorney General and police to answer for the failure to pursue a criminal investigation into the latest death at the company's operations.
"The grieving families, the community, our union and all working people want to know why, once again, the death of worker was not criminally investigated and prosecuted," said Marty Warren, USW Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
"The families and public deserve answers," Warren said. "Fines are clearly not enough; they're not a deterrent. Vale is a repeat offender."
Vale reached a plea-bargain deal this week related to the April 2014 death of Paul Rochette and life-altering injuries to Rochette's co-worker, Justin Stewart, at the company's Copper Cliff Smelter in Sudbury.
The deal saw Vale agree to pay $1 million in fines and plead guilty to a reduced number of health and safety violations, in exchange for avoiding a trial and the province dropping the majority of its charges against the company and three of its supervisors.
A similar deal was reached in 2013, when Vale agreed to more than $1 million in fines in exchange for avoiding a trial and the province dropping most of the charges laid against the company and a supervisor for the 2011 deaths of miners Jordan Fram and Jason Chenier.
In both cases, Vale and its supervisors faced charges of Occupational Health and Safety Act violations. No criminal charges were pursued against Vale, despite the existence of Criminal Code provisions – the so-called Westray Law – enacted more than a decade ago to allow for criminal prosecution of corporations, their executives and managers in cases of workplace deaths and injuries.
"Our thorough investigations have proven that these were preventable deaths," said Rick Bertrand, President of USW Local 6500, representing 2,500 production and maintenance employees at Vale's Sudbury operations.
"Yet here we are again, with another plea-bargain deal and no criminal accountability being demanded by our government," Bertrand said. "Our members and our community agree with the Rochette and Stewart families – justice has not been served."
"When will this government take meaningful action to protect workers and ensure justice for families whose loved ones are needlessly injured or killed on the job?" asked Mike Bond, chair of the USW Local 6500 health and safety committee.
"Plea-bargain deals and fines for massive multinational corporations do not change the health and safety culture and they do not ensure accountability," Bond said.
In recent years Vale has received scores of orders from the Ministry of Labour, ordering the company to address health and safety concerns at its Sudbury operations, with some of the orders forcing the company to temporarily suspend operations.
In October alone, the labour ministry has issued 96 orders to Vale to rectify issues at two mines, under terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
There are approximately 1,000 workplace deaths in Canada each year, but few employers are ever criminally charged, let alone prosecuted, under terms of the Westray Law.
The USW is leading a national campaign, Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law, calling on provincial and territorial governments to provide greater direction and training of Crown prosecutors, police and safety regulators to ensure enforcement of the Westray Law.
For more information on the campaign: www.StopTheKilling.ca
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information: Marty Warren, USW District Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada, 416-243-8792, [email protected]; Rick Bertrand, USW Local 6500 President, 705-675-3381, [email protected]; Mike Bond, USW Local 6500 Health and Safety Chair, 705-675-3381, [email protected]; Myles Sullivan, USW Northeastern Ontario Co-ordinator, (705) 675-2461, [email protected]; Sylvia Boyce, USW Ontario and Atlantic Health, Safety and Environment Coordinator, 905-741-9830, [email protected]