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TORONTO — In the early morning hours of May 9, 1992, an explosion ripped through the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia. The explosion took the lives of 26 miners and forever changed the lives of the people of Plymouth and many surrounding communities.
The inquiry that followed the disaster made clear that not only was the explosion preventable, but that it was inevitable given the lack of health and safety the owners and operators allowed to go on in the short eight-month life of the mine.
The United Steelworkers union (USW) saw the terrible injustice that had taken place and vowed to work to prevent it ever happening again. After a decade of lobbying, the union was successful in having the federal government change the laws to allow employers to be criminally charged in the death of workers due to negligence.
“The USW has been relentless in having lawmakers and law enforcement take the Westray Law seriously,” said Ken Neumann, USW National Director. “Across Canada, we still see about 1,000 workers lose their lives every single year, with over 260,000 receiving what are often life-altering injuries, just from going to work.”
“During this pandemic, we have seen workers, many in precarious jobs, continuing to work even though they are ill. Strictly enforced COVID protocols and paid sick days would go a long way in protecting vulnerable, frontline workers,” said Marty Warren, USW District 6 (Atlantic provinces and Ontario).
The union continues to this day to fight to ensure employers are held criminally responsible for workplace injuries and death.
“On May 9 we remember all the victims of Westray as well as all workers who die or become disabled due to employers who refuse to provide healthy and safe workplaces,” said Stephen Hunt, USW District 3 (Western Canada). “We will continue to push for negligent employers to face criminal charges until they realize that the lives of workers are not a cost of doing business.”
USW District 5 (Quebec) Director Dominic Lemieux raised particular concern that this year the anniversary of the Westray disaster coincides with the introduction of dramatic provincial health and safety clawbacks in Quebec (Bill 59) – which will have serious implications for the lives and well-being of workers on the job.
“Governments right across the country must recognize their responsibility to keep workers safe. Effective prevention of workplace deaths and injuries requires meaningful involvement of workers and their representatives. Under existing legislation, this level of involvement of workers exists only in a small minority of Quebec workplaces. These legislated protections must be extended to the 88% of Quebec workers who are not covered, but instead the provincial CAQ government wants to weaken the legislation even further,” said Lemieux.
Ken Neumann, USW National Director, 416-544-5951
Shannon Devine, USW Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org 416-894-7118