Canadian Manufacturing

$1M fine against Vale for workers’ deaths not enough, union says

United Steel Workers union calls plea deal a "betrayal" of Ontario workers and their families

TORONTO—A massive fine levied against mining giant Vale Canada Ltd. for the deaths of two workers in a Sudbury, Ont., mine two years ago is a “betrayal” of Ontario workers, according to the union representing the firm’s miners.

The $1-million fine, the largest workplace safety penalty issued by a provincial court, “highlights our government’s failure to take comprehensive, meaningful action to better protect workers,” Rick Bertrand, president of United Steel Workers (USW) union Local 6500, said in a statement issued in response to the news.

Vale was fined a total of $1,050,000 plus a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act after pleading guilty to three counts related to mine safety.

The charges stem from the June 2011 deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram, both of Sudbury, who were killed roughly 900 metres underground at Vale’s Stobie mine.

Both employees died from crushing injuries and blunt force trauma.

According to the USW, it conducted an eight-month investigation into the incident that revealed “disturbing evidence of safety violations in the mine.”

The union said management refused to co-operate with the investigation—the first time in the history of the former Inco Ltd. operations in Sudbury that the company did not participate in a joint investigation with the union into a fatality.

The USW alleged its investigation found that, prior to the deaths of Chenier and Fram, the mining giant “had ignored ongoing problems with flooding” in its Stobie operations.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour said its investigation also revealed Vale failed to deal with water issues, leading to a deadly accumulation of wet muck clogging the mine.

The ministry issued nine work orders—including two work stoppages—to Vale immediately after the workers’ deaths.

“Damning evidence was uncovered that showed the deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram, like so many other injuries and fatalities in Ontario mines, were preventable,” USW’s Bertrand said.

“Yet our government has refused to pursue the possibility of a criminal prosecution and rejected a public inquiry into mining safety. We’re left with a plea-bargain deal in which our government drops most of the health and safety charges in exchange for a fine against one of the largest corporations in the world.”

Vale Canada, a subsidiary of Brazilian mining giant Vale, has six mines, a mill, a smelter and a refinery in Sudbury.

With files from The Canadian Press

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