The union representing employees at two Elk Valley mines has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to try to stop Teck implementing a random drug and alcohol testing program.
The union said the program, brought in to effect on Monday, is unlawful and inconsistent with human rights privacy legislation. The parties are in arbitration, but according to the union there is no way to stop the program quickly without intervention from the court.
Teck said the new program will reduce injuries at work, but the union said this is unjustified, since fatalities and injuries are low at open pit mines in B.C. They said that insurance rates for such mines, which are based in part on injury rates, are lower than those of lawn bowling facilities.
The union representing employees at Teck’s open pit Elkview and Fording River mines filed the petition at the Vancouver courthouse on Wednesday, November 28. The union said the drug and alcohol testing program will randomly select all employees for mandatory screening. It will replace the company’s existing screening process, which only targets employees the company has reasonable cause to test.
However Teck told The Free Press the random testing only applies to operations employees, in other words, those working at the mine sites.
Teck siad that random testing is an effective deterrent to employees considering using alcohol or drugs.
“One of our chief obligations is to provide a safe workplace for our employees,” said Nic Milligan, Manager of Community and Governmental Affairs at Teck. “Evidence shows that drug and alcohol use is an issue based on pre-employee screening and also voluntary disclosures by employees.”
Milligan said that 39 job applicants tested last year tested positive for various drugs of concern.
The union disagrees, saying the testing is an infringement of human rights, treating workers as if they are guilty until proven innocent.
“It is an invasion of privacy,” said Alex Hanson, President of United Steelworkers Local 9346 in Sparwood.
“How far will they go under the guise of safety? And why didn’t they implement this two years ago when coal prices were high? Why do they wait until coal prices have dropped and they don’t have as much work?
“I believe this is more about control than safety. Random testing is immoral, humiliating, degrading, and demeaning.
“This is a gross invasion and violation of a workers privacy, shows a blatant disregard for the sanctity of the workers person, and completely obliterates the trust of the employer-employee relationship.”
Teck said the new program strikes “an appropriate balance” between protection of privacy and improving the safety of all employees.
“When the trucking and transportation industry introduced random testing it resulted in a 23 per cent reduction in fatal crashes of highway trucks,” said Milligan.
“This is strong evidence that it works as a deterrent.”
Milligan also said that if an employee tests positive in a random test, it is not a firing offence, and the employee will be sent for evaluation and treatment at the company’s expense.
Vancouver lawyer John Hodgins filed the petition on behalf of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union.