MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada:Vale to blame for double mine fatalities, claims Union

Published by MAC on 2012-03-06
Source: Postmedia News, statement

Vale to blame for mine double fatality: union

By Natalie Stechyson

Postmedia News

29 February 2012

The United Steelworkers union is calling on the Ontario government to consider pressing criminal charges against mining giant Vale, placing the blame for two workers' deaths at one of their Sudbury, Ont., mines squarely on the company.

Mine workers Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram died in 2011 because of "ongoing and documented neglect of safety standards by the owners of the Frood/Stobie Mine complex, the international mining company Vale," USW Local 6500 alleged in a report released Wednesday.

"Sometimes, in mining, accidents happen. And sometimes they're not controllable," Wayne Fraser, the director of United Steelworkers for Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, told Postmedia News.

"There's no hesitation by the investigation team, by our union, that these deaths were absolutely avoidable."

The two miners died June 8, 2011 after an "uncontrolled torrent" of wet mud and ore flooded the tunnel where they were working, burying them, the union's report said.

The union's report, based on an eight-month investigation, alleges Vale management ignored ongoing problems with flooding in the mine, and says the mud and ore was created by excess water in levels above where the two workers were killed.

Chenier had set up guard rails to stop the dumping of any more wet ore into the ore pass, but management had them removed to facilitate production, the report said.

Chenier had also sent emails to the company warning them of the water levels in the weeks leading up to his death, the report said.

"It was very, very clear to us that production was put ahead of safety," Fraser said.

"What's sickening to me is these are two human beings that deserved better. They're not numbers. These are people, and they have a right to still be alive today."

The union would like to see Vale charged for workplace negligence.

It also asks the government to immediately establish a commission of inquiry into mine safety.

Vale spokesman Cory McPhee told Postmedia News Vale stands by the results of its own internal investigation.

"It was thorough, complete and conducted by senior and experienced experts. That investigation concluded that there were a number of factors contributing to this tragic incident, with no single cause or individual at fault," McPhee said.

A preliminary reading of the union's report indicates there is no new factual information that Vale's investigation team hadn't considered, said Kelly Strong, Vale vice-president, mining and milling (North Atlantic operations) and general manager (Ontario operations) in a statement.

But there is a "distinct difference," Strong said, in how the union chose to interpret those facts.

"We reject the USW's allegations of negligence and are prepared to defend the company and our employees fully if required," Strong said.

Vale has assembled a team to review the Steelworkers' report's 165 safety recommendations, Strong said.

"Life matters most and nothing is more important than the health and safety of our people."

The 2011 fatalities are two of three that occurred at Vale mines in Sudbury in the last nine months. In late January a 47-year-old man died when rock fell on him as he was loading the face of the rock with explosives.

Sudbury is about 400 kilometres north of Toronto.

"Patently Unreasonable": Labour Board Ruling Vindicates Steelworkers In Case of Fired Vale Employees

Media Release

"Patently Unreasonable" Vale Breaks Ontario Labour Law

24 February 2012

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has vindicated the United Steelworkers, ruling that mining giant Vale engaged in "patently unreasonable" conduct and violated provincial labour law by firing nine Sudbury workers without recourse to arbitration.

Labour Board Ruling Vindicates Steelworkers In Case of Fired Employees

SUDBURY - Mining giant Vale engaged in "patently unreasonable" conduct and violated provincial labour law by firing nine Sudbury workers without recourse to arbitration, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has ruled.

"This ruling is another concrete example of Vale's blatant disregard for workers' rights, for our laws and for our country's labour relations traditions and culture," said United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard.

"This is a major victory for our union, for the working families who have been adversely affected by Vale's unlawful conduct, and for unionized workers throughout the province," said USW Local 6500 President Rick Bertrand.

"It is shameful that the affected families have suffered in limbo for more than two years due to Vale's illegal decision to deny workers their right to independent arbitration," Bertrand said.

The OLRB ruled Friday that Vale violated the Ontario Labour Relations Act by maintaining a "patently unreasonable" position with regard to nine workers fired by the company during a yearlong strike in Sudbury in 2009-10. Two of the fired workers - Patrick Veinot and Jason Patterson - also were elected officers of the local union.

Vale broke the law by not "making every reasonable effort to make a collective agreement" during negotiations, the labour board stated in its 29-page ruling, which made references to "troubling" behaviour by Vale.

The labour board agreed with the Steelworkers that the fired workers must have recourse to the long-established right and tradition of third-party, just-cause arbitration.

"The Ontario Labour Relations Board has upheld the reasonable position that our union had put forward since March 2010," said Wayne Fraser, the Steelworkers' director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada who was the union's chief negotiator during bargaining with Vale.

"By refusing to agree to this reasonable position and instead adhering to its unlawful conduct, Vale prolonged the suffering and uncertainty for families in our community. The OLRB's ruling should give Vale pause to consider the hardship inflicted on these families," Fraser said.

"We are confident that the board's decision will help bring about the reinstatement of these workers through the arbitration process," Rick Bertrand added.

"In the meantime, we invite Vale to reinstate these workers while the process runs its course," Bertrand said. "It would be the decent thing to do and it would be a welcome departure from Vale's pattern of antagonistic behaviour."

"Since taking over Inco Ltd. in 2006, Vale has provoked unprecedented labour disputes, attacked working standards, damaged labour relations, slashed jobs, and announced harmful plant closures," said Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers' National Director for Canada.

Last December, the OLRB found that Vale committed unfair labor practices by unlawfully denying a union representative access to company workplaces.

An Industrial Inquiry Commission appointed by the Newfoundland and Labrador government to investigate an 18-month strike at Voisey's Bay found that Vale's "behaviour demonstrates disrespect for the role of a bargaining agent."

"The time is overdue for Vale to reconsider its entire approach to labour relations and its troubling behaviour that has harmed working families and communities," Neumann said.

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Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5950;
Wayne Fraser, USW District 6 Director, 416-243-8792, 416-577-4045;
Rick Bertrand, USW Local 6500 President, 705-675-3381;
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-434-2221, 416-544-5966

Complete Ruling of Ontario Labour Relations Board

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