SUDBURY - A plea bargain dropping the majority of Occupational Health and Safety Act charges against mining giant Vale in the deaths of two miners is another betrayal of Ontario workers and their families, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.
"Today's decision highlights our government's failure to take comprehensive, meaningful action to better protect workers and to ensure justice for families whose loved ones are needlessly injured or killed on the job," said Rick Bertrand, President of USW Local 6500, representing 2,600 mining workers in Sudbury.
"Damning evidence was uncovered that showed the deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram, like so many other injuries and fatalities in Ontario mines, were preventable," Bertrand said.
"Yet our government has refused to pursue the possibility of a criminal prosecution and rejected a public inquiry into mining safety. We're left with a plea-bargain deal in which our government drops most of the health and safety charges in exchange for a fine against one of the largest corporations in the world."
The plea-bargain agreement, negotiated between the Ministry of Labour and Vale, was accepted in the Ontario Court of Justice today. The deal saw Vale plead guilty to three violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, with fines of $350,000 for each violation. The fines fall short of the maximum penalty of $500,000 for such violations.
Numerous other charges against Vale and one of its supervisors were dropped as part of the deal.
Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram were killed on June 8, 2011, when they were buried by 350 tons of muck while working 3,000 feet underground at Vale's Stobie Mine in Sudbury.
The USW conducted an eight-month investigation in the deaths and released a landmark report that revealed disturbing evidence of safety violations in the mine and made sweeping recommendations to improve mining safety.
Vale refused to co-operate with the USW in its investigation. It marked the first time in the history of the former Inco Ltd. operations in Sudbury that the company did not participate in a joint investigation with the union into a fatality.
The USW's investigation found that, prior to the deaths of Chenier and Fram, Vale had ignored ongoing problems with flooding in Stobie Mine. The investigation also found a number of other safety problems that management had ignored at the mine.
The USW issued a 207-page report calling for numerous safety improvements in Ontario mines, as well as a public inquiry into mining safety and a government investigation to determine if criminal charges were in order.
"The plea-bargain agreement between the province and Vale acknowledges that the company failed, in multiple instances, to take ‘reasonable precautions' to prevent hazardous conditions in the mine," said USW Ontario Director Marty Warren.
"Two workers were killed in these hazardous conditions. Their families, friends and co-workers are forever wracked by the knowledge that this tragedy could have been prevented," Warren said.
"Meanwhile, our government's answer is a plea bargain and a fine."
The Sudbury tragedy underscores the urgency of a national campaign launched by the USW to urge provincial attorneys general to make a renewed commitment to enforcing the Westray Act, said Ken Neumann, the union's Canadian Director.
"The Westray Act was enacted in 2004 to ensure that corporations and their executives and directors would be held criminally accountable for putting workers' lives in danger," Neumann said.
"Since this legislation was passed there have been more than 8,000 workplace deaths in Canada, and not a single corporate executive, director or manager has been jailed."
For further information:
Rick Bertrand, USW Local 6500 President, 705-675-3381, ext. 238
Marty Warren, USW District 6 Director, 416-243-8792
Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5951
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, email@example.com