The provincial government has shown once again that its attitude toward inspecting workplaces is putting Albertans in danger, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
"Despite undeniable and uncontested evidence of a workplace problem that played a role in the death of a worker's wife, the Ministry of Employment and Immigration said it would not investigate because a complaint had not been filed," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.
Narin Sok, a 51-year-old employee at a scrap metal yard, was found to be suffering from heavy-metal toxicity due to exposure at his workplace, according to an agreed statement of facts submitted at his Court of Queen's Bench trial for the 2008 murder of his wife, Deang Huon. Crown and defence lawyers agreed that Sok is not criminally responsible for the death due to delirium caused by the condition.
"The excuse of not investigating because no complaint has been filed is the same feeble reasoning used by Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk when confronted with research provided by the AFL last month that showed widespread violations of rules governing child workers," says McGowan.
"The government's complaints-driven process is a failure. The only way to keep workplaces safe is for a proactive campaign of vigorous and frequent random inspection by inspectors with real powers to punish violators. Instead, this government chooses to wait for complaints to be filed and reacts to them – literally waiting until people are hurt before taking action," says McGowan.
"The minister boasts about his recent string of blitz inspections of forklift operations, young workers and commercial construction sites, but these have come after accidents or concerns have been raised in the media. These blitzes alone are not enough to prevent problems. Even though warnings were given in advance of the inspection blitzes, a staggering number of problems have been uncovered. Once the inspection blitz is over, bad employers know that the spotlight has been turned off and they are free to return to even worse safety practices."
The AFL has called for blitzes to be backed up with more concrete action, including ongoing random inspections, hiring even more inspectors than the minister has announced, giving them increased powers to issue on-site tickets for violations, increased mandatory training for such things as forklift operations and mandatory joint worker-employer safety committees.
"The number of workers killed on the job jumped by 24 per cent to 136 last year. It is way past time the government started doing its job and protected its citizens, rather than relying on show-and-tell blitzes for the media and having his department wait for the phone to ring with a complaint after another person has died or been hurt," says McGowan.
Contact: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, is attending the CLC convention in Vancouver and can be reached at 780-218-9888