Husky investigation fails to address discrimination concerns, dismissed Muslim workers say

Husky Energy has concluded downsizing by a subcontractor was the reason for the dismissal of three workers who complained about Islamophobia. But critics say the response fails to address allegations of workplace discrimination at the Lloydminster upgrader.

Company dismisses harassment claims, argues layoffs were part of downsizing at Lloydminster upgrader

Amino Rashid says the response from Husky Energy won't deter discrimination. (Peter Evans/CBC)

An investigation by Husky Energy has concluded downsizing by a subcontractor was the reason behind the dismissal of three Muslim Edmontonians who complained that a woman in a hijab was harassed about her "hoodie."

But critics say the response by Husky and subcontractor Newcart Contracting Ltd. fails to address the allegations of workplace discrimination.

"Our inquiry determined the contractor had started downsizing its workforce as a result of its work on the maintenance project coming to a close," Husky spokesperson Mel Duvall wrote this week to Amino Rashid, one of three former workers at the centre of the incident at the Husky upgrader in Lloydminster, Sask.

"The three workers were part of a larger group given layoff notices. The contractor maintains their selection was unrelated to the fact that a complaint had been made. That is consistent with the information we obtained."

Newcart has made some changes to their HR processes as a result of an audit by Husky, added Duvall.

Husky launched an investigation after a CBC inquiry last June into the dismissal of Rashid, 25, and her female and male co-workers. They were let go by Newcart  after 11 days on the job.

The workers said they were fired on the same day they complained that a male colleague berated Rashid about her hijab, suggesting if he couldn't wear a "hoodie" she shouldn't be allowed to either.

Days earlier the group reported a similar incident in which another worker told Rashid to "take that thing" off because her hijab made people feel uncomfortable.  
Husky's Lloydminister upgrader where three Edmontonians were dismissed on the same day they reported Islamophobic incidents. (Husky Energy)

In a taped recording after their dismissal, a senior manager from Newcart acknowledged a worker had referred to Rashid's hijab as a hoodie. But he said the layoffs were due to cutbacks and the trio were randomly selected. Because of the way they were acting, said the supervisor, they were ineligible for re-employment.

The former workers have filed a complaint against Newcart with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Rashid said that during the hiring process supervisors told her there was no issue with her hijab.

Financial setback for students

Rashid learned about the results of the investigation last week by email. Despite her calls and emails, it was the first contact from Husky since the initial complaint was documented, she said. Rashid questioned the thoroughness and fairness of an investigation that included no followup with the complainants or consideration of their evidence.

"It's kind of disheartening because of everything we went through for them to say that," Rashid said Wednesday, expressing dismay that Husky didn't offer an apology or recognize what they'd been through.

"I feel like their decision won't do anything for future recurrences of issues like this."

When I go to new jobs I'm scared that the same thing might happen again.- Amino Rashid

Both she and her former colleagues relied on summer contracts in the energy industry to cover tuition and expenses at York University in Toronto. This year they're juggling full-time work in addition to their studies, along with other consequences.

They said it took months to find new jobs that they could balance with their studies.

"When I go to new jobs I'm scared that the same thing might happen again," said Rashid. "It's kind of sad now when I see somebody look at me funny, or talk to me funny, I'm like 'Oh is it because of that?' "

In the email to Rashid, Husky apologized for a delay in communication and thanked Rashid for raising her concerns, noting her complaint to the human rights commission.

"Husky will cooperate fully with that investigation, as needed, and we are very interested in the Commission's determination," wrote human resources senior vice president Nancy Foster, who emphasized Husky's commitment to foster a diverse and respectful workplace.

Incidents 'thoroughly investigated'

In a statement emailed to CBC, Newcart said it had completed its own investigation but declined to share details, citing employee rights to privacy and due process.

"We have thoroughly investigated the incidents," Newcart wrote last week. "We have prepared a thorough summary of the results of our investigation, our conclusions and our action plan as a company in responding (to) these incidents to the (commission)."

"Newcart has never and will never discipline or terminate an employee for reporting any incidents of harassment and discrimination," the company stated, adding all incidents are investigated by supervisors and senior management.

Their unwillingness to engage constructively with the victims contributes to a larger culture of consent of this behaviour-  Renee Vaugeois , human rights advocate

But Renee Vaugeois with the Edmonton Coalition for Human Rights and Justice, a group supporting the workers, said the response "doesn't address the core issue that we have three people whose lives were severely impacted by this incident.

"What they don't realize is what happened there is endemic to the larger culture of bullying and hate we see," said Vaugeois. "And their unwillingness to engage constructively with the victims contributes to a larger culture of consent of this behaviour towards Muslim and racialized communities."

Vaugeois suggested Husky should have mediated between the two parties. She urged oil and gas companies to build bridges and create safe spaces to make it easier for both witnesses and victims to come forward with these kind of complaints.

"These three young people were so brave to do so," said Vaugeois. "There was an opportunity to show a different kind of leadership and I think that's been lost."


andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She has also reported from Saskatchewan, Toronto and East Africa.