·  by David P. Ball   ·  The Tyee

Time Has Come: 'Kill a Worker, Go to Jail,' Say Steelworkers

Prison time for scaffold deaths, lawsuit over sawmill explosion prompts strong words from labour.

"The time has come: if you kill a worker, you go to jail."

Strong words. But Ken Neumann, head of the 225,000-member United Steelworkers Canada, says that's the precedent setting message from an Ontario court ruling this week.

In a historic court ruling on Monday, a judge sentenced Metron manager Vadim Kazenelson to 3.5 years in prison for the deaths of four workers who plunged 13 storeys when their scaffolding failed outside a Toronto apartment building on Christmas Eve, 2009.

Kazenelson was found guilty last June of four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily injury.

It's the first jail-time meted out under Canada's so-called Westray Act, which amended the Criminal Code in 2004 to ensure that company managers could be held accountable in cases of "grave moral faults."

For Neumann, Monday's sentencing, which still faces appeal, "is going to set a precedent that employers better start paying attention: you can't compromise safety," he told The Tyee in a phone interview.

Neumann cited two B.C. sawmill explosions as an example of the need for more criminal prosecutions of employers. In Burns Lake and Prince George, separate incidents that killed four workers and injured 42 more.

A coroner's inquest jury that examined both incidents deemed the cases accidents. But on Tuesday, employees at both sawmills launched a class action suit against WorkSafeBC alleging the provincial agency was negligent in inspecting the plants and investigating the incidents. The case has not been tested in court.

The fact that Monday's sentencing was the first-ever of its kind under the Westray Act in its 12 years of existence shows there is much more work to do on workplace safety, Neumann said.

Here's what else Neumann had to say about the struggle to prosecute negligent employers and managers in Canada, the recent sentencing decision, and other developments in his union's long campaign for justice. Our interview is edited for length and clarity.

Complete article in The Tyee

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