Canadian legal system fails the public: Suncor Energy case to protect workers
Canada’s workplaces are arguably more dangerous due to a six-year battle between a union and Suncor Energy Inc. concerning the policy of random testing of workers in safety-sensitive jobs in the Fort McMurray region.
The union involved claims random testing infringes on the privacy of workers and that tests should only apply where there is reasonable cause to believe workers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The company says it has evidence random testing works and that the safety of all workers should be a priority. So far the union has been allowed to use the justice system to delay implementation for six years and is now asking for leave to appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada.
This is an abuse of the court system and exposes all Canadians working around equipment, and who are in potentially hazardous conditions, to greater danger.
A number of companies, such as Irving Oil Company and Teck Resources Co. have also fought for enhanced testing privileges, but Suncor has persisted and will go the distance, thanks to the commitment of its CEO Steve Williams.
“With a passion we are pursuing it,” he said in an interview. “Safety in the workplace is absolutely critical to us. We have a big work force and considerable risks, so it’s important we manage this.”
In 2012, Suncor’s random testing policy, for workers in safety-sensitive jobs, was first challenged by the union that represents about 3,000 of its workers. In 2014, the majority of an arbitration board ruled in favour of the union but then an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench quashed the decision and that decision was upheld on appeal. This took years.
In 2017, Suncor prepared to implement random testing for a second time, but the union once again asked courts to block this until either the Supreme Court of Canada decides whether to give the union leave to appeal, or the matter is re-heard by a fresh arbitration panel.
“This has gone on for six years and I’m profoundly disappointed in the process and that we have not been able to test during this time,” said Williams. “Tragically, during that time, we have had workplace fatalities where drugs and alcohol were definitely involved. As a global oil company, we also have evidence that, in Denver, we can see how random testing has a positive impact.”
From November 2013 to October 2017, 73 Suncor employees in the Fort McMurray region tested positive for alcohol and drugs at operations: 39 did so following incidents; 14 as a result of reasonable cause tests; and 20 in follow-up or return to work tests.
In Denver, during that period, only five tested positive: one as a result of a reasonable cause test, none following 72 incidents, and only four out of 1,209 random tests.
Worse, in Canada the company routinely finds alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, oxycodone and drug paraphernalia at its Fort McMurray operations. This is despite the fact that the company searches workers and vehicles as they enter operations and has drug sniffer dogs on patrol.
“Random testing works as a deterrent,” said Williams. “Where it has been introduced, we see significant numbers of individuals coming forward and saying to us ‘I have a problem and will you help?’”
“We will help with alcohol or drug addictions and try to get them back to work,” he said. “Once random testing was not allowed to proceed in Fort McMurray, those self-declarations dropped off. We continue to have an issue there.”
And, by the way, so does Canada.
published in NATIONAL POST April 13