Delayed justice spells danger for Alberta workers: Action needed now to make worksites safe as province braces for boom in foreign employees

The delay of the criminal case against companies involved in the deaths of two oilsands employees is bad news for Alberta workers, says the province's largest labour group.

"Justice delayed is justice denied – and the families of these workers have been waiting for more than four years for the court to hear what happened," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers. "But this delay also spells danger for people now working in Alberta or who will be working here in the months and years to come," he says.

"The two workers who died in April 2007 at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Horizon project, and another four who were injured, were temporary foreign workers (TFWs) unfamiliar with Albertan workplace procedures and safety standards. The Alberta government failed to take the necessary measures to ensure our standards were being maintained – and the workers paid the price with their lives," says McGowan. "Alberta is on the cusp of another boom in bringing in foreign workers – we could have more than 100,000 TFWs here soon. We need to learn the lessons from this tragedy now in order to ensure the same fatal mistakes aren't made again. This trial delay makes learning those lessons more difficult," he says.

The number of applications to bring TFWs into Alberta approved by the federal government soared by 37 per cent between 2009 and 2010, rising by 11,655 to a total of 42,885. Add that to the 57,774 TFWs already working here in 2010 and Alberta could soon pass the six-figure mark.

A total of 53 charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act have been laid against CNRL, Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd. and SSED Canada Ltd. The companies were to go to trial October 3, but the case has been put over until October 1, 2012.

"The Alberta government had a hand in the accident in 2007. Alarm bells should have gone off for provincial regulators when it became known that CNRL was hiring a Chinese contracting firm. Inspectors should have been at the site before ground was broken and should have made frequent visits to ensure our safety standards were being met – but that didn't happen," he says.

"We cannot ignore or fail to enforce our rules just because these are foreign workers. The government must be more serious about its responsibility to inspect worksites and enforce its rules, or more workers will die or be hurt," says McGowan. "We have to make sure that these foreign construction firms, whether they come from China or other countries, are not importing Third World labour and health and safety practices along with the temporary foreign workers that they use."


MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888

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