EDMONTON – A union that represents 3,000 oilsands workers at Suncor Energy sites in northeastern Alberta has won a court injunction against random drug testing.
Unifor Local 707-A had argued that random testing would be a violation of workers’ rights and privacy.
Calgary-based Suncor (TSX:SU) has said random tests are needed to bolster safety and wanted to start the program this month.
In his ruling, Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Belzil said the privacy rights of employees are just as important as safety.
“In my view the balance of convenience favours granting the injunction,” Belzil said in a written judgment released Thursday.
“The request by Suncor to increase the scope of drug and alcohol testing by implementing random testing would necessarily impact employees who have no drug and alcohol issues and who have not been involved in workplace incidents.”
Belzil noted that Suncor already has non-random drug and alcohol testing. He said granting the injunction would not result in an unsafe work environment.
He said both parties agree that the Suncor workplace is dangerous, but agree on virtually nothing else.
Sneh Seetal, a Suncor spokeswoman, said the company would be filing an immediate and expedited appeal of the injunction ruling.
“We are surprised and disappointed by the decision, especially in light of the evidence that we put forward of the pressing safety concerns associated with the ongoing alcohol and drug problems in the workplace in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo,” Seetal said from Calgary.
“Preventing Suncor from taking steps to address known safety hazards associated with workplace alcohol and drug use is not reasonable.”
Ken Smith, president of the union local, said Unifor members are happy with the judge’s decision.
“We are very pleased with the ruling and that weight was given to a person’s dignity on the job and that human rights are being upheld for the time being,” he said from Fort McMurray.
“Worker safety is the No. 1 priority here.”
Suncor and the union have been battling over random drug tests since 2012. Unifor has sought leave to appeal an earlier court ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Belzil said if leave to appeal is granted, both sides should co-operate to resolve the case as quickly as possible.
If the high court decides not to hear the case, Suncor and Unifor should go to arbitration, he suggested.
Suncor presented evidence in court last month that 59 union employees have tested positive for alcohol or drugs over the last four years.
The company said drugs – including marijuana, ecstasy, cannabis resin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine – and prescription pills such as oxycodone have been found at Suncor operations and work camps.
The company’s oilsands projects around Fort McMurray operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Employees work 12-hour shifts operating some of the biggest and most complicated industrial equipment in the world.