Pubdate: Sat, 02 Dec 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Page: A14


Everyone wants a safe work environment, including the provincial NDP
government, which this week introduced a number of measures aimed at
reducing injuries and deaths on job sites.

Employees will now have the right to refuse work they deem to be
dangerous, for instance. They've always had the ability to reject
tasks they felt put them at risk, but instead of protection being
included in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, it will soon form
part of Bill 30, the cleverly titled An Act to Protect the Health and
Well-being of Working Albertans.

The problem, says Labour Minister Christina Gray, is that a person's
ability to refuse dangerous work doesn't place sufficient onus on
employers - an observation shared by the labour minister's idealogical
twin, Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

In fact, WBC changes - among other promised amendments - are said to
have nearly brought tears to McGowan's eyes, so moved was he by the

Shuffling the ability to refuse hazardous tasks from one piece of
legislation to another bit of paperwork is all well and good. And it
should be noted there is more money for Workers' Compensation Act
fatality payments paid for from the premiums of employers.

Still, there's something odd about Albertans' response to workplace
dangers. Suncor has been been lobbying for years to address "profound
problems" with drug and alcohol use at its oilsands operations, but
it's been hampered at every turn by the employees' union, Unifor local
707A4. The courts and the government have been of no assistance,
despite their avowed concern for safety.

Suncor says there have been 73 safety incidents in the past four years
where workers tested positive for drugs or alcohol - many times, way
over the legal limit.

How can one group in society - government - espouse such regard for
worker safety, while another - employees' own union - be determined to
fight measures such as random drug and alcohol testing that would keep
employees safe?

Suncor - which reports it has spent $4 million treating substance
abuse dependency since 2012 - points out random tests would only apply
to safety-sensitive positions.

It's too bad that the union and the legal system can't see the wisdom
of coming together to prevent such fatalities in the first place.

Any death payments will come from the employer, and perhaps the
government, but if the union cares about its members' contributions,
beyond the union dues they are compelled to pay, it should value their
safety rather than natter on about privacy breaches.

Most families, we suspect, would prefer to keep breadwinners alive
rather than have their unions oppose tests that are designed to ensure
everyone's safety.
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