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MPPs call for action on Hamilton workplace deaths

Dena Fehir
MPPs call for action on Hamilton workplace deaths

Three New Democrat MPPs from the Hamilton and Niagara regions are calling for meaningful action, including a fast-tracked investigation, into recent workplace deaths at (NSC) in Hamilton.

In a letter signed by Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates and St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens, the trio push for Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton to meet with the union for workers at NSC. Such a meeting was requested by the United Steel Workers (USW) after the third and most recent employee death in that workplace in less than two years.

In early June of this year, welder, husband and father of two, Quoc Le, 51, died on the job after a reported 2,000-pound metal bulkhead fell at the Kenilworth Avenue North plant.

Le is the third worker to die at the facility in the past 22 months. Prior to his death, the railcar maker was already facing charges over the other two on-the-job-deaths.

In April 2021, painter, Collin Grayley died on the job, and eight months prior to that in September 2020, crane operator, Fraser Cowan lost his life.

In the wake of the latest fatality, the three MPPs state in their letter to McNaughton, “This needless death is just the latest in a string of workplace fatalities at the same company over the past two years. National Steel Car has failed to provide a safe workplace despite warning after warning, and this failure has led to numerous injuries and deaths.

“Now, yet another family is left reeling with a loss of life that was, as is always the case, entirely preventable, and workers in Hamilton are left fearing for their lives as they head into work each day.”

They call for “concrete and meaningful action,” on the failure to protect workers and state that such operations should not be able to remain in service without consequences.

NSC would not comment on any of the deaths, investigations or the MPPs calls for action in the letter.

Horwath, Gates and Stevens demanded in the correspondence that McNaughton meet with staff of NSC and their United Steelworkers representatives at the facility to directly hear their concerns.

“Workers and the families of victims have been demanding a meeting for weeks. They deserve peace of mind and assurances that the government is aware of the dangers they are facing and is actively working to address the issues. We are also demanding an expedited investigation into the deaths at National Steel Car.

“Finally, we are asking that you and your ministry make a recommendation to the federal government, to explore the applicability and enforcement of the Westray Law in this case. We are eager to work with you to make sure that this company is held accountable and that workers and their families get justice for these horrific deaths,” the letter concludes.

The Westray bill was federal legislation that amended the Canadian Criminal Code and became law in March of 2004. The bill established new legal duties for workplace health and safety and imposed serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death.

In exercising this law, the USW has called for police to investigate Le’s death for criminal negligence by NSC.

In related developments, the NDP and USWs actions come as NSC is facing separate charges over what the Ministry of Labour is calling two alleged critical injury incidents.

The ongoing, unspecified injuries include health and safety charges for matters that occurred in March 2021 and August 2019.

In response to the NDP MPPs request for a meeting, Harry Godfrey, senior manager of communications for McNaughton’s office issued the following statement:

“We are saddened by this loss of life. All workers deserve to come home safe after a hard day’s work. Our thoughts are with their family, friends, work colleagues and the Hamilton community. An investigation into this workplace fatality is underway.

“From June 3, 2021 to June 3, 2022 there have been 75 visits and 78 orders/requirements issued to National Steel Car. There are currently four prosecutions before the courts alleging OHSA contraventions by National Steel Car Limited. To protect the integrity of the workplace fatality investigation and the issues before the courts, we are unable discuss this matter further.”

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