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Debate reignited over foreign workers




James Stevenson


Two Chinese temporary workers died in an accident at an oilsands construction site in Alberta. The investigation is still going on and we don't know yet if the health and safety training and procedures were legitimate.

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Red Deer Advocate

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The deaths of two Chinese workers at an oilsands construction site in Northern Alberta has reignited a debate over Canada's temporary foreign worker program.

Energy company Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) confirmed Wednesday that the victims were Chinese employees who had been brought over by an unnamed Canadian contractor. Four others who were injured are also from China. Gil MCGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said questions surrounding the accident's cause are "more urgent" due to the involvement of foreign workers.

He called on both the Alberta and federal governments to broaden their investigation to include a look at whether the temporary foreign worker program can be at all blamed in the deaths.

"For example, did these workers receive adequate health and safety training before they started working on a Canadian worksite?" McGowan asked. "Were there issues related to language and communication that played a role?

"these are questions that aren't always addressed in ordinary health and safety investigations, but given the nature of this particular workplace accident, we think the investigative authorities need to leave no stone unturned."

The workers died Tuesday when the roof collapsed on a massive oil container being built as part o Canadian Natural's $10.8-billion Horizon oilsands project north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Two of the injured wew released from hospital within 24 hours, while the other two were transferred to a facility in Edmonton.

Real Doucet, the company's senior vice-president of oilsands, said it's unlikely that their nationality had anything to do with the accident.

"The way we see it here, when people come on site there are very, very strict rules, very strict regulations and standards thant Canadian Natural has imposed on all its contractors on site."

Doucet also said that all workers - no matter where they come from - have to be certified and fully competentbefore being allowed to work.

But alberta Liberal employment critic Bruce Miller said better protection and improved monitoring of workplace conditions for temporary foreign workers are still needed.

"We have a duty to protect the people who come to ALberta through this program," he said.

Miller also suggested that foreign workers who do face unsafe working conditions may find it difficult to complain due to restrictive work visas.

The tank farm where the accident occurred is now under a stop-work order and five investigatorsfrom Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Department were at the scene.

Doucet said winds that were gusting upwards of 30 km/h around the time of the accident may have played a role.

"That's propably what the investigation will determine - whether wind was the cause or not. We don't know what the cause is at this time."

The tank farm is not a critical part of the Horizon project, but the long-term implications of the accident remain unclear, he added.

"it all depends on the investigation. We definitely want to do a very thorough root-cause analysis and we want to do also lessons-learned out of this. Definitely it is something that we take very, very seriously."


Alberta, foreign workers, oilsands, accident, safety

Economic sectors

Oil and gas well drilling and related workers and services operators

Geographical focuses