A representative from the United Steelworkers union made an appearance at the Village of Burns Lake’s council meeting last Tuesday where he made a presentation to the mayor and councillors urging them to support the union’s resolution that would see enforcement of the Westray law.
The Westray law, known as Bill C-45, is federal legislation in response to the Westray Mine disaster in Plymouth, Nova Scotia that saw a mixture of methane gas and coal dust explode on May 9, 1992, killing 26 workers.
The bill became law on Mar. 31, 2004 and was supposed to establish new legal duties for workplace safety and health, as well as impose serious penalties for violations that resulted in injuries or death.
However according to the steelworkers union the bill isn’t being enforced, and the stats that the union gives are quite alarming.
According to George Penner, who was at the council meeting last Tuesday representing the United Steelworkers Union, since the Westray law was passed in to being in 2004, there have been 9000 workplace related deaths across the country, an average of 1000 deaths per year or three deaths per day.
Not one corporate executive has been sentence to even one day in prison.
“We know that employers aren’t responsible for all of them, many are just unfortunate accidents it’s the ones where they employer has knowingly and willingly put someone else in harms way with no consideration for that person’s well being that is unacceptable,” Penner said.
The steelworkers union started the ‘Stop the Killing’ campaign in October 2013 at their district health and safety convention to petition local governments to support their initiative in getting Crown prosecutors to start enforcing the Westray law.
“We need to hold employers accountable for wrongful deaths in the workplace,” Penner said.
Penner says that the steelworkers union has marched with the families and survivors of the sawmill explosions at Babine Forest Products and Lakeland and says that the experience was heartbreaking, noting that the Westray law should’ve been enforced in those situations, instead of just the $1 million fine, which is now being appealed.
The steelworkers union has received support from many municipalities across the country including the cities of Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario and recently by towns in B.C., including Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.
“I ask for your support in adopting the resolution. Together we can make a difference, let’s stop the killing and enforce the law,” Penner said.
Mayor Luke Strimbold said that council would take a look at the recommendation, and bring it back for discussion at a later date, something that is typical protocol for the village.