AFL Wants Alberta to Use Westray Bill
Alberta’s largest union organization is calling on the province's new cabinet to do more for workplace safety. On Wednesday, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan sent an open letter to Alberta's newly appointed Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis, asking him to consider criminal prosecutions for employers responsible for worker deaths or injuries.
Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the Westray mining disaster in Nova Scotia. On May 9, 1962, 26 miners working underground were killed by a methane explosion. The company was found guilty of 18 non-criminal counts of operating an unsafe mine. But criminal charges against senior officers were dropped because the criminal code did not have those provisions at the time. Nine years ago, the government changed that. “The federal government did change the criminal code with a bill called C-45 more commonly know as the Westray Bill,” says McGowan. “It basically gives governments and police forces the power to go after employers for criminal liability if they’ve put their workers at risk in the workplace.”
McGowan says governments have access different legislation to hold companies accountable. “Not only can governments file civil suits and fine companies and individuals under the Occupational Health and Safety Code, now we have this tool where they can actually make them criminally liable for their negligence.” McGowan calls the legislation good. “It puts another tool in the tool kit of governments who are trying to keep workers safe.”
But the Alberta Government has never used these provisions. McGowan says the province should be using this tool more aggressively when called for. “Obviously not every case of workplace injury or fatality would be appropriate to follow criminal charges but what we’re saying is in those cases where it is appropriate where negligence has lead to the accident then the government should not hesitate to use it.”
McGowan says if companies know they can be held criminally responsible, it's an incentive for them to step up their workplace health and safety measures. He is hoping to meet with the province's solicitor general to talk about the AFL’s concerns.
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