The giant Teck Mining Company has begun conducting random drug tests on workers at its southeast B.C. mines — a move the miners' union calls outrageous and a violation of rights.

The testing began at five mines in the Elk Valley this week as some workers among the 3,500 coal miners and contractors were randomly selected and asked to urinate into a cup.

It's all about safety, Teck spokesman Nic Milligan said.

"We believe it is a deterrent, and if an employee tests positive, it is not a firing offense. That employee has the opportunity to go for treatment," Milligan said.

Milligan said dozens of job applicants go through the same process and test positive for drugs every year.

Union incensed

The miners' union is incensed about the tests, calling them an illegal trampling of employee rights.

"I think it's humiliating, degrading and demeaning and I think it's a violation of workers' privacy," said Alex Hanson, president of United Steelworkers Local 9346.

"It completely obliterates the trust of the employee-employer relationship."

Hanson said the union will take the issue to the Supreme Court to try to have the testing stopped.

Milligan said the company has taken the employees’ rights into account in carrying out the program.

"We take privacy rights seriously, but we think the random program creates a reasonable balance between privacy and the safety of all our workers."

With files from the CBC's Bob Keating