Unions calls for enforcement of Westray Law

18,000 workers have died because of their work since law took effect, says Canadian Labour Congress

Unions calls for enforcement of Westray Law

Canadian unions are calling for the enforcement of the Westray Law that has been in effect for 20 years.

The Westray Act was passed in 2004. However, despite its existence, the law remains largely unenforced, leaving too many negligent employers off the hook and countless workers vulnerable to unsafe working conditions, said the United Steelworkers (USW).

Overall, 18,000 workers have died because of their work since the law took effect, said both USW and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

“Since the enactment of the Westray Act, over 18,000 workers have lost their lives due to workplace hazards. Many thousands more have had their lives forever altered by workplace injury and occupational illness,” said Marty Warren, Canadian national director of USW.

“This staggering number highlights the urgent need for robust enforcement of the law. Every worker deserves to return home safely to their families at the end of their workday.”

While the Westray Law is there and it could prevent workplace deaths, there is a problem with enforcement, said Bea Bruske, president of CLC.

Both CLC and USW are demanding:

  • the appointment of dedicated investigators and prosecutors for workplace deaths, along with mandatory, standardized training for such positions
  • having Crown attorneys educated, trained and directed to apply the Westray amendments to the Criminal Code
  • mandatory training for police and health and safety regulators, supported by the necessary resources, on the proper application of the Westray amendments
  • mandatory procedures, protocols and co-ordination in every jurisdiction for police, Crown prosecutors and health and safety regulators

The call came 31 years after May 9, 1992, 26 workers at the Westray mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia were killed in an underground explosion.

“We remember the 26 miners who died 32 years ago because of what a judge called ‘a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity, and neglect,” said Bruske. “We mourn them and honour their memory by fighting for work to be safe.” 

Just before April ended, the CLC called on employers and governments to prioritize worker safety as Canada marked the National Day of Mourning today. Canadian unions demanded employers and governments to make work and workplaces truly safe spaces for all workers with the call to action “Safe work now.”

What is Canada doing for occupational health and safety?

Around that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted what the federal government has been doing to ensure safe workplaces for workers.

"The federal government is working with employees and employers to make sure workers are taken care of, including by strengthening the Canada Labour Code. As part of these efforts, through Bill C-65, we are fighting harassment and violence, including sexual and domestic violence, to ensure workers have the support they need – whenever they need it,” he said.

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