EDMONTON _ A unit of a giant Chinese petrochemical corporation can face trial on safety charges in the deaths of two oilsands workers.
The Alberta Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling that Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Co. can be prosecuted under the Health and Safety Act.
The court also ruled Wednesday that the Crown can apply to hold a trial on the charges under the Criminal Code if Sinopec Shanghai does not show up in court.
The two temporary workers from China were killed on April 24, 2007, when a storage tank collapsed at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.´s (TSX:CNQ) Horizon project near Fort McMurray.
Sinopec Shanghai, which brought the workers to Alberta, argued it has no official presence in Canada and was never properly served with legal documents.
One of the three Appeal Court justices wrote a dissenting opinion, so the company may seek leave to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Canadian Natural Resources and SSEC Canada, which is 90 per cent owned by Sinopec, are to go to trial on 53 charges next October _ more than five years after the workers died.
Josh Stewart, an Alberta Justice Department official, said the Appeal Court ruling means the Crown will apply to prosecute the three companies together.
"The Crown will be returning to provincial court and we will be asking for Sinopec Shanghai Engineering to be tried jointly with CNRL and SSEC Canada Ltd. on the information that is presently scheduled for trial in October 2012," he said.
Sinopec Shanghai officials were not available for comment. Officials with Canadian Natural Resources, which wanted Sinopec included in the case, declined to comment on the ruling.
Court documents show Sinopec repeatedly missed court appearances on the charges in 2009. An official with SSEC Canada was eventually served a summons to appear. Sinopec hired a lawyer and began arguing it should not be included in the case.
A provincial court judge ruled last year in Sinopec´s favour, but the Crown successfully challenged that ruling in Court of Queen´s Bench.
The Alberta Federation of Labour and the Christian Labour Relations Association have been critical of the long delay in prosecuting the case.
Federation president Gil McGowan said Alberta is preparing for another influx of temporary foreign workers, including some from China. He said the government would learn lessons from the case that could prevent similar deaths in the future.
Companies owned by the Chinese government are major players in Canada´s energy industry with $11 billion in investments in the last two years.
Units of Sinopec have spent more than $7 billion in Alberta since 2009. The deals include the recent purchase of Daylight Energy Ltd., and major stakes in oilsands projects such as Syncrude and Total E&P Canada´s Northern Lights.
Last summer, state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. announced a $2.1-billion deal to buy OPTI Canada Inc., an Alberta oilsands company. In 2009, PetroChina announced it was spending $1.9 billion to buy into the Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.
Oilweek, Wed Nov 23 2011
If companies like Sinopec are going to invest in the oil sands, they need to respect our laws, says McGowan
AFL applauds court decision to hold Chinese firm to account for workers' deaths
EDMONTON – The Alberta Federation of Labour applauds the Alberta Court of Appeal's decision to uphold a ruling that Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Co. can be prosecuted for the deaths of two oil sands workers.
"Today's ruling makes it clear that if international companies want to do business here, they have to not only respect our laws, but also be accountable when they violate them," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
"Although we applaud today's decision, we're troubled that court proceedings have taken this long," says McGowan, noting that the two workers were killed over four years ago in April 2007. "With one of the three court justices holding a dissenting position, there's a possibility that the company may seek to delay their day in court even longer."
"It is incredibly frustrating and distressing that this company tried to dodge justice by dragging the process out as long as they have. We hope these workers' families will see justice as soon as possible."
"The other company involved in these workers' deaths, Canadian Natural Resources, is due to go on trial in the fall of 2012, more than five years after the accident. These delays are totally unacceptable and make a mockery of laws designed to protect workers."
Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888 (cell)
EDMONTON - In a decision released Wednesday, the Alberta Court of Appeal has decided that a Chinese corporation can face charges in Alberta court for the 2005 death of two temporary foreign workers in northern Alberta.
The decision upholds a previous ruling that Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd. can be prosecuted. The two men worked for the company.
The company had argued that since it has no official presence in Alberta or Canada, and no Canadian employees, it could not be included in the jurisdiction of an Alberta courtroom.
On April 24, 2007, the internal supports of a large tank collapsed, killing Hongliang Liu from China's Shandong province and Genbao Ge, from the Henan province. The men were in Canada on temporary foreign-worker permits and worked at the Horizon Oil Sands project near Fort McKay.
In April 2009, the Alberta government laid 53 Occupational Health and Safety Act charges in connection with the incident. While most were laid against Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., 10 were laid against Sinopec Shanghai.
CNRL will be in court in the fall of 2012.
In the Alberta Court of Appeal decision, two judges upheld the ruling, while a third offered a dissenting opinion.
The Alberta Federation of Labour applauded the decision.
"If companies like Sinopec are going to invest in the oilsands, they need to respect our laws," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
Edmonton Journal, Wed Nov 23 2011
With retailers gearing up for the holiday shopping season, work is available for job seekers. But a lot of the jobs are of the part-time or temporary variety.
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, tells 660News it's a sign of a bigger problem.
"As it stands right now, even in a wealthy province like Alberta, we're pushing like a third of our work force that's working part-time or temporary," says McGowan. "Which is a big change from say 20 years ago when there was a much higher proportion of full-time or permanent" (work).
"This is a troubling trend because not surprisingly part-time workers earn less, have less security," McGowan continues. "They" (part-time, temporary workers) "have less money to spend in the economy. They find it harder to buy houses and stuff like that. All these things keep the economy going. So if more and more people are working part-time and temporary, that has broader implications beyond the individual."
As a result of the hiring practices of some employers, McGowan argues that employers only have themselves to blame for the type of employee available on the job market.
"They complain about having a hard time finding people and workers won't come, they won't apply, they're not loyal," he adds. "But on the other hand, they're not offering full-time jobs. And it is cheaper and easier for companies to have temporary and part-time workers. But there's a price with that."
McGowan says that price is a hit to the overall economy, since part-time and temporary workers have less spending power and security.
i660News, Sat Oct 22 2011
EDMONTON _ Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason is demanding that Premier Alison Redford intervene with the federal government in a dispute over temporary foreign workers in the oilsands.
Mason says 200 unionized insulators at Suncor´s Firebag 3 site were denied work on a project earlier this month after the employer decided to look overseas.
"She needs to pick up the phone to her federal counterparts and say, ´We need to fix this,"´ Mason said Wednesday.
"We need to make sure when this program is utilized by employers there is a serious attempt to determine if there are Alberta workers available for the jobs."
Mason stressed he is not against the concept of a foreign worker program, but added he doesn think "these jobs should be left for temporary foreign workers when there are Albertans (available) who are skilled and able to do the jobs."
Flint Energy recently got permission to bring in workers from Portugal and the Philippines after it reported that it couldn´t find sufficient skilled help in Canada.
The union says its workers could have joined the new project, but would have had to accept lower wages under the umbrella of a different union contracted to do the work.
Mason says it´s one more example of a disturbing trend in which temporary foreign workers are used to undercut unions and depress wages.
Redford´s office directed calls to the Intergovernmental, International and Aboriginal Relations Department. Department spokesman Sonia Sinha says officials are discussing the Flint issue with Ottawa as part of an ongoing discussion on how to improve the program.
Immigration is run by the federal government but has direct impact on provinces such as Alberta, which is looking for workers to fill jobs in its rapidly growing oilpatch.
Federal statistics show there were more than 42,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta last year _ a quarter of all such workers in Canada.
In some respects, the issue has the Alberta government and opposition singing from the same song sheet.
Last month, then employment minister Thomas Lukaszuk wrote a letter to federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney asking that the program be fixed. In the note, Lukaszuk said long-term reliance on the program doesn´t help workers or the communities they work in.
Lukaszuk said the rules leave workers in limbo _ free to exercise their rights to safe employment but with the knowledge that doing so may jeopardize their chances of staying in Canada.
Kenney has promised to revamp the program to eliminate red tape, reduce redundancy and make sure people with the right skills are getting matched with the jobs that need filling.
Ottawa is also looking to recruit more help from south of the border. More and more Americans are looking to Canada for work as the U.S. economy continues to falter.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has suggested the province follow the lead of Manitoba, which keeps closer track of temporary foreign workers to determine where they´re working, what they´re doing and at what skill level.
Oilweek, Wed Oct 19 2011
October 2011: Labour Code Review; Keystone XL pipeline; no protection for TFWs; safety on construction sites
- The Alberta government has embarked on a biased and secretive review of the province's Labour Code that threatens to introduce Tea Party inspired, Wisconsin-style changes to the rules governing workplaces. Affiliates of the AFL have united in their opposition to the union-busting and possibly illegal changes – and have warned the government to expect unprecedented labour unrest if it pushes ahead. For AFL September 28th press release; AFL August 26th press release; September 5th op-ed
Unions in bid to stop Canadian jobs being shipped down Keystone XL pipeline
- While Alberta and Canada's political leaders acted like sales executives pitching TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S., it was left to unions to fight for Canadian jobs. The AFL and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) went to Ottawa to explain to MPs that the pipeline would mean hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S., but only a handful of permanent jobs in Canada. Meanwhile, new research showed that the Alberta government is set to fall even farther behind its target of refining 72 per cent of bitumen in the province, with a predicted drop to only 50 per cent by 2017. For more information, see AFL September 22nd press release and July 19th press release ...
Flood of TFWs heading to Alberta, but government still failing to protect them
- Alberta is bracing for a new influx of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), but little is being done to make their workplaces safe. A court case against companies charged in the death of two Chinese TFWs in 2007 has been delayed for another year, meaning important lessons on how to keep workers safe will also be delayed. Meanwhile, AFL research revealed that there could soon be 100,000 TFWs in Alberta, but the government has failed to take any concrete action to fix the flawed program that has seen so many workers abused. For more information, see AFL September 16th press release and July 28th press release.
Alberta government fails to enforce safety rules at construction sites
- A CBC investigation showed that provincial safety rules were routinely being ignored on residential construction sites, putting the lives of workers at risk, but the government failed to response to calls from the labour movement for a more rigorous system of random inspections. Instead, the government ordered a one-time blitz of construction worksites – but undermined its effectiveness by warning employers when inspectors would be visiting. For more information, go to September 23rd CBC story and AFL September 12th press release.
- Labour Code: Tell Redford to scrap the review! A review of the Labour Code launched by the Employment Minister is full of union-busting proposals. We need all affiliates to let the government know what they think of these ideas, but time is running out so submissions must be made NOW! For more information on the review and the AFL's reaction, see the top LabourBytes news story. For more info ... (AFL letter to affiliates (October 5th) and the Joint Statement from the Executive Council, September 28th
- October 10: Thanksgiving
- October 10: World Mental Health Day
- October 17: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
- October 18: Persons Day, commemorating the anniversary of the 1929 ruling that declared women to be persons in Canada
- October 21/22: Facilitators Re-facilitators Conference
- October 24-28: CUPW National Convention
- October 25-27: UNA AGM
- October 27-28: HSAA Labour Relations Conference
- October 31-November 4: CUPE National Convention
- November 4-6: 45th Annual Alberta NDP Convention
- November 11: Remembrance Day
- November 16: International Day of Tolerance
- November 18-20: Parkland Institute 15th Annual Fall Conference
- November 25: International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women
- December 4: AFL Women's Committee December 6th Commemorative Brunch and Morning of Solidarity
Did you know ...
- The Alberta government has set a target of upgrading 72 per cent of our bitumen in the province.
- Currently, only 61 per cent is being upgraded in Alberta and the government predicts that figure will fall to 50 per cent by 2017.
- Various studies show that the Keystone XL pipeline will create between 99,000 and 550,000 jobs in the U.S., but only about a dozen permanent jobs in Canada.
- Alberta has 45,578 barrels of proven oil reserves per person living in the province, more than Saudi Arabia (10,125), Iran (1,766), Iraq (3,782) and Kuwait (40,067).
- The value of Alberta's oil sands is estimated to be $1.41 trillion.
Immediate action is needed to make worksites safe as Alberta braces for a boom in foreign employees, says Alberta's largest labour group.
A criminal case against companies involved in the death of two oilsands employees has been delayed and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers, says that's bad news for Alberta workers.
The two workers died in April 2007 at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Horizon project, and another four who were injured, were Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) unfamiliar with Albertan workplace procedures and safety standards.
"The Alberta government failed to take the necessary measures to ensure our standards were being maintained — and the workers paid the price with their lives," said AFL President Gil McGowan.
"Alberta is on the cusp of another boom in bringing in foreign workers — we could have more than 100,000 TFWs here soon. We need to learn the lessons from this tragedy now in order to ensure the same fatal mistakes aren't made again. This trial delay makes learning those lessons more difficult."
The number of applications to bring TFWs into Alberta approved by the federal government soared by 37 per cent between 2009 and 2010, rising by 11,655 to a total of 42,885. Add that to the 57,774 TFWs already working in the province in 2010 and Alberta could soon pass the six-figure mark.
A total of 53 charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act have been laid against CNRL, Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd. and SSED Canada Ltd. The companies were to go to trial Oct. 3, 2011, but the case has been put over until Oct. 1, 2012.
"We cannot ignore or fail to enforce our rules just because these are foreign workers," said McGowan.
"The government must be more serious about its responsibility to inspect worksites and enforce its rules, or more workers will die or be hurt."
"We have to make sure that these foreign construction firms, whether they come from China or other countries, are not importing Third World labour and health and safety practices along with the temporary foreign workers that they use."
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Thurs Sept 22 2011
Since he left his native Nepal 13 years ago, Shyam Thapa Chhetri has spent his entire adult life working with his brother Shalik as domestic servants at the home of a telecom executive in Delhi, for $130 to $186 a month.
Now their employer is trying to get the brothers to come with him as he runs a major oil company in Calgary.
Asim Ghosh, the chief executive at Husky Energy Inc., has successfully gone to court to force diplomats at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to reconsider their initial decision to refuse the Chhetris temporary work visas.
The case has shone a light into the world of temporary workers, a category of newcomers whose arrival has now outpaced permanent immigrants in Alberta, raising union fears that Canada is becoming a country of guest workers.
If the Chhetri brothers eventually get their visas, they are to come to Canada to keep Mr. Ghosh's house clean, wash and iron clothes, cut grass and shovel snow, and prepare meals in either of the Bengali, Uttar Pradeshi or southern styles of Indian cuisine.
Visa officers in Delhi were concerned that the brothers wouldn't leave Canada after their work visas expired. But a Federal Court ruling last July ordered the applications to be reviewed again.
In Canada, the Chhetris would earn 13 times more than in Delhi, though accommodation won't be included so they would have to face Calgary's housing market on $28,537 a year. (They are to be paid $13.72 an hour, with 10 weeks of paid vacation and medical and dental benefits. Alberta has an annual minimum wage of $21,492 for domestic employees.)
To justify their hiring, Mr. Ghosh obtained a labour market opinion (LMO), a federal government document certifying that no Canadian was available to fill the Chhetris' jobs.
"These guys will likely do very well for themselves. Typically, a fellow like this is looking for continuity," said Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.
Mr. Kurland, who has advocated for temporary workers, said many others are not so lucky and languish in poorly paid jobs with little oversight or legal recourse.
The issue is especially topical in Alberta, home to nearly a quarter of Canada's temporary foreign workers. Nearly 43,000 of the 113,000 LMOs issued last year by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada were for Alberta.
Hiring temporary employees is supposed to be a tool of last resort, but looser federal rules have allowed employers to fast-track foreign workers into Canada, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said.
Because Mr. Ghosh has employed the brothers for more than a decade, it is unlikely that their stay in Canada will be temporary, Mr. McGowan argued. "The federal government's Temporary Foreign Worker program has completely gone out of control," he said.
Still, Mr. Ghosh had trouble persuading consular staff to let him bring his servants to Canada.
After successfully managing Vodafone Essar Ltd., India's second-biggest telecom firm, Mr. Ghosh was named Husky chief executive in June of last year, earning an annualized salary of $1.2-million.
By October, he had obtained a favourable LMO for his two domestics. The following month, visa officers rejected the Chhetris' applications. Officers said the brothers had weak ties to Nepal and suspected that the huge salary hike would lead them to stay in Canada.
The Federal Court, however, ruled in July that the wage gap shouldn't disqualify the two men. Earning more is "the very reason for coming," Mr. Justice Donald Rennie said.
While "a yellow flag was reasonably raised" by the visa officer, the case deserves a second look, the judge ruled.
Mr. Ghosh will not comment on the case, a Husky spokeswoman said.
the Globe and Mail, Wed Sept 14 2011
Byline: Tu Thanh Ha and Carrie Tait
EDMONTON - Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has stepped up his push to get permanent status for temporary foreign workers in Alberta after hearing of recent cases of abuse of some Filipina women.
These women were told they could gain permanent status if they had babies here — a false statement — and a handful were impregnated, Lukaszuk said.
Now their lives are complicated — pregnancy will soon force them to leave their jobs and accommodations. At that point, they have to leave Alberta and face going back home with their babies, he said.
The cases were brought to him by Women Changing Together, an organization that helps immigrant women, Lukaszuk said Friday.
"I wasn't surprised, having dealt with many cases of abuse as an MLA, but I was heartbroken," Lukaszuk said. "Over and over again, we see evidence that the prolonged use of temporary foreign workers is not a good thing."
On Friday, Lukaszuk sent a second letter to federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney reiterating Alberta's plea to grant permanent status to the 50,000-plus temporary workers currently in the province.
He also sent a copy of a report by parliamentary secretary Teresa Woo-Paw that concludes the temporary program is not a long-term solution to Alberta's labour shortage and carries significant negative impacts for the communities, workers and employers.
About 75 per cent of the complaints from foreign workers for violations of labour standards were upheld, — a substantial number, Lukaszuk said.
But those complaints may only show part of the problem, as many workers fear to bring their complaints forward, he said.
"These workers have the same rights and protections as Albertans, but in a practical sense they are not as likely to exercise those rights."
Lukaszuk says he's willing to look at the Manitoba system, one suggestion in the Woo-Paw report, but he did not make a firm commitment.
"That's putting a Band-Aid on a Band-Aid," he said.
Under that system, employers have to register with the province and show a clean record on upholding labour standards before they can apply to the federal government to bring in workers.
The report also calls for some government assistance to help smaller communities with integrating large numbers of temporary workers.
Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour says he's pleased the minister recognizes that the temporary workers program is flawed and is not the best way to meet the labour shortage.
But like some other advocacy groups, the AFL urged the province to adopt the Manitoba system because is allows the government to track where temporary foreign workers are employed, at what kinds of jobs, and with what skill levels.
That kind of data makes it easier to enforce labour standards, McGowan said.
"We particularly need tougher inspection and enforcement to prevent the widespread abuse of vulnerable TFWs that we have seen in the past," he said.
Lukaszuk said it's impossible to pinpoint exactly how many Alberta employers now bring in temporary foreign workers, since the approvals come from the federal government. "But it would be in the tens of thousands," he said.
At the height of the boom, more than 60,000 were brought in, he said.
It's also impossible to know how many workers have stayed illegally and are working underground because the province does not track when contracts expire, he said.
The pressure on the workers to find a way to stay in Alberta is immense, said Lukaszuk, especially those from Third World countries.
"You can tell people as often as you want that they are temporary but many will do anything to stay. Back home, their entire family is living a middle-class existence thanks to their job here."
Canada brings in about 170,000 temporary foreign workers each year, while about 280,000 immigrants are allowed into the country annually.
Edmonton Journal, Fri Sept 9 2011
Byline: Sheila Pratt
Real solutions missing in Alberta government response on TFWs: More must be done to address province’s labour needs and protect vulnerable workers
The Alberta government has recognized the failings of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, but has missed an opportunity to offer real solutions, says the province's largest labour organization.
"We welcome the conclusion in today's report that the TFW program is flawed and is not the answer to Alberta's labour needs," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers. "But they've failed to make the step from conclusions to solutions."
In the report, titled Impact of the TFW Program on the Labour Market in Alberta, MLA Teresa Woo-Paw says: "As a result of this review process, I have concluded that we cannot continue to use the TFW Program to fulfill our province's long-term labour shortages. Doing so has significant, negative impacts for the long-term growth of our economy. Although temporary foreign workers (TFWs) have a place in our economy, the TFW program is not a long-term solution to Alberta's labour market needs."
McGowan says: "Despite the government accepting this clear conclusion, it has offered no concrete solutions. In particular, we are seriously disappointed that the Employment and Immigration Minister has failed to adopt the Manitoba model for dealing with the TFW issue, which the AFL promoted in its submission to the review of the program."
The Manitoba government maintains a rigorous monitoring policy that involves registration for any employer hiring temporary foreign workers, as well as a rigorous system for monitoring brokers and recruiters.
"Unlike Alberta, the government of Manitoba knows precisely where temporary foreign workers are employed, at what kinds of jobs, and what kinds of skill levels. This makes proactive enforcement, payroll inspection, monitoring of recruiter activity, status of work permits, and the monitoring of labour market needs much easier. We particularly need tougher inspection and enforcement in order to prevent the widespread abuse of vulnerable TFWs that we have seen in the past," says McGowan.
"In his response to Woo-Paw's report, Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he would lobby the federal government to remove the annual caps on the number of TFWs that can be nominated for permanent immigration and to expand routes to permanent residence for low- and semi-skilled TFWs. He also said he would ask the federal government to reform the mainline immigration system," says McGowan.
"Make no mistake. We welcome these attempts to lobby the federal government, but these and the other measures adopted by the minister are not enough," he says.
"When it comes to his targets for lobbying the federal government, the minister is definitely on the right track," says McGowan. "He has many of the right targets. But here at home in Alberta, he's basically committing to the status quo. Given Woo-Paw's conclusion that the TFW program is broken, that's clearly not good enough. For example, it's not enough to simple 'continue enforcing' existing legislation. We need new and better legislation to deal with employers and brokers who abuse workers," he says.
"It is also inconsistent for the Alberta government to point out the serious flaws in the TFW program while also saying it wants to make it easier for employers to apply to bring in TFWs," says McGowan.
"What's also missing from the report is any acknowledgement that the Alberta government has played a big role in the problems that an expanded TFW program is purportedly needed to address. Employers in some areas, including construction, are having a hard time finding workers, but that's because the Alberta government has approved too many big oilsands projects at once," he says.
"We probably wouldn't even be talking about shortages and foreign workers if the government had followed the advice of former Premier Peter Lougheed and had set a more reasonable pace for development in the oilsands."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888