Report from the OH&S Canada magazine (October 2014 by Jeff Cottrill)
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is charging that a contractor has been hiring temporary foreign workers with insufficient training to work on a construction site for oil corporation Husky Energy Inc., Via a fast-track stream of the Temporary Worker Program (TFWP).
According to a statement the AFL issued on September 1, 2014 this practice has been putting workers’ lives at risk because of deficient safety training. The Federation says Saipem Canada has taken advantage of the Alberta Pilot for Occupational-Specific Work Permits in order to hire hundreds of TFWs and lower wages instead of fully qualified Canadians.
“The only good news in the current situation is that we have not had a major accident and there have been no serious injuries or fatalities,” AFL President Gil McGowan says. “Without the proper training and without proficiency in the language is used on the site, it is just a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed.”
The pilot project ran for three years; it ended on July 31, 2014 as part of the federal government’s recent TFWP reforms. The AFL learned that the fast-track stream had been placing new TFWs into two categories: some received two-year “open” visas, which allow them to work for more than one employer, while the rest received “closed” one-year visas, meaning they had to stay with the same employer. The former were assessed to have work qualifications that would be recognized in Canada, whereas the latter were assigned a Canadian-equivalency test.
Only 24% of the temporary foreign workers who were hired under the fast-track received open visas, making the work of the remaining 76% questionable, McGowan argues. “It also has big implications for workplace health and safety. If you are not properly trained, the chances are that you won’t be able to work safely, especially on industrial worksites.”
But Saipem denies that it passed over skilled Canadians for jobs with Husky’s Sunrise construction project and that language barriers at the site are causing additional safety risks. “We have 2,180 employees at the Husky Sunrise Project site, and roughly 85% of this number is Canadian,” the company notes. “Our hiring practices are in compliance with the law and regulations.”
Husky media and issues manager Mel Duvall adds that the company employs rigour is quality-assurance processes at the site. “Work is inspected many times by the contractors and ourselves to verify it is completed to specifications.”
About 2000 workers hired under the fast-track stream are still employed at Alberta worksites, the AFL claims. The hiring practice at the Sunrise project, operating about 60 km north of Fort McMurray, came to the AFL’s attention after site workers approach the media was stories of poor training, safety violations and near-accidents.
McGowan says he has written a letter to the Federal auditor-general, requesting an investigation into the pilot project. “We are also asking Jason Kenney, the Federal Minister of employment, to immediately revoke the visas that were granted to temporary foreign workers who don’t have proper qualifications,” he adds.
I realize this is an older report but one can see the long-term problems with health and safety on the Alberta worksite. I do not believe that the problems there will be going away any time soon!
The competency standards out there are very odd compared with most of the other provinces. In Ontario, the competency standard looks like this;
“competent person” means a person who,
(a) is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance,
(b) is familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and
(c) has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace.
Lack of adequate training has always been a leader in occupational health and safety accidents. Maybe, Husky Energy needs to review their practices and get on board with the rest of Canada.
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.