Emterra workers' union calls for provincial health and safety review

The union representing Emterrra workers who pick up garbage and recycling Winnipeg is calling on Manitoba's labour minister to launch an investigation into the company's working conditions.

'Workers deserve to work in a safe and healthy environment,' says CUPE Local 500

The City of Winnipeg is investigating Emterra over what Mayor Brian Bowman called a "concerning" safety record. (CBC)

The union representing Emterrra workers who pick up garbage and recycling in Winnipeg is calling on Manitoba's labour minister to launch an investigation into the company's working conditions.

Officials with CUPE Local 500 say they want an investigation to focus on workplace health and safety for everyone, whether in the union or not, who falls under Emterra's contract with the City of Winnipeg for garbage and recycling collection services.

Local president Mike Davidson says there is enough evidence for a provincial investigation.

"You could easily see that a lot of these practices are being done in a very unsafe manner," he told CBC News on Thursday.

"To find out exactly what's going on, you have to launch an investigation … talking to those people that perform the duties, talking to those contractors, those subcontractors, I think, is important to make improvements to workers' well-being."

CUPE Local 500 represents about 180 Emterra employees in the city. The union does not represent employees of Emterra subcontractors. The local is also the largest union representing City of Winnipeg employees.

Earlier this week, the city announced it is investigating Emterra over what Mayor Brian Bowman called a "concerning" safety record.

Since the company took over the city's garbage collection services in 2013, it has responded to five serious incidents and 23 complaints from the public and employees, Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health said.

The province said the serious incidents, which date back to November 2013, include:

  • A temporary worker run over by a collection truck.
  • An Emterra worker caught between a truck and a hydro pole.
  • The collapse of a 4¼-metre wall at an Emterra facility.
  • An employee who suffered a head injury and smoke inhalation as a result of a fire.

In the past two years, there have been 85 claims filed to Manitoba's Workers Compensation Board for employees injured on the job at Emterra, and 29 of those claims included time off work.

The company is subject to routine health and safety inspections by the province, and in the last two years, it has issued Emterra 13 stop work orders, two administrative penalties and 58 improvement orders, "including orders for safe work procedures, personal protective equipment and competent supervision for workers."

Davidson said he believes the safety issues stem from Emterra relying on subcontractors that hire temporary day labourers, who are not unionized.

"What kind of training they get, we don't know. What kind of protective clothing they get, we don't know. There's a reason why these employees aren't using the mechanisms on the trucks to lift them in a safe manner," he said.

The union said day labourers are paid low wages, have no job security, work in "substandard and dangerous conditions and have few rights."

The union added that the health and safety issues Emterra is facing were not present when city employees operated garbage and recycling pickup services.


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