Alberta Federation of Labour slams trial delay for firms charged with safety violations

Immediate action is needed to make worksites safe as Alberta braces for a boom in foreign employees, says Alberta's largest labour group.

A criminal case against companies involved in the death of two oilsands employees has been delayed and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers, says that's bad news for Alberta workers.

The two workers 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," said AFL President Gil 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."

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 in the province 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 Oct. 3, 2011, but the case has been put over until Oct. 1, 2012.

"We cannot ignore or fail to enforce our rules just because these are foreign workers," said McGowan.

"The government must be more serious about its responsibility to inspect worksites and enforce its rules, or more workers will die or be hurt."

"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."

Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Thurs Sept 22 2011

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