A Quebec union is sounding the alarm about the safety of non-unionized mines after a worker was struck and killed by a piece of machinery last week in the Abitibi region.
The United Steelworkers union says there have been seven deaths at non-unionized mines in the province since 2008 and none at unionized mines.
Roughly 3,000 of Quebec's 8,000 mine workers are not unionized.
Last week, a 70-year-old subcontract employee died at the Agnico-Eagle gold mine in LaRonde after he was hit by a piece of heavy machinery while installing an air-conditioning system.
Jean-Yves Dunn was the sixth person to die at an Agnico-Eagle mine in Quebec since 2004.
USW spokesperson Guy Farrell said if there was a union at the mine, safety standards would be enforced to a greater degree.
'The union doesn't have a monopoly on safety," said Coffin. "This is something we take very, very seriously.' — Dale Coffin, Agnico-Eagle spokesperson
"For us, we feel we're entitled to go in with two arms and two legs in the morning and leave with two arms and two legs at night," said Farrell.
"In non-union mines, the company does not respect at all health and safety committees. They do not respect [the] full-time health and safety representative and he has no power."
He said he could not say for sure that unions would have prevented any of the deaths.
Agnico-Eagle spokesperson Dale Coffin said the company's three Quebec mines have the same systems in place as all other mining operations in the province, whether unionized or not.
"The union doesn't have a monopoly on safety," said Coffin. "This is something we take very, very seriously."
Mine defends safety practices
Coffin said all employees are trained in safety procedures and proper use of equipment.
Each of the company's mines has a joint employee-management safety committee and full time safety officers working in the mine, he said.
He said subcontract workers are also trained to meet safety standards.
'For us, we feel we're entitled to go in with two arms and two legs in the morning and leave with two arms and two legs at night.' —Guy Farrell, USW spokesperson
"Anyone that's going to spend any length of time underground in one of our operations is fully aware of all of the procedures and can understand them and can demonstrate that they understand them," said Coffin.
"One lost time accident is too many. We're constantly every day looking to improve our record. Our goal is to ensure that everybody who comes to work in the morning goes home to their families at night."
Safety the same: CSST
Quebec's workplace health and safety board, the CSST, is still investigating Dunn's death.
Spokesperson Jacques Nadeau said it is difficult to draw any link between the presence of unions and safety in mines.
He said CSST inspectors make sure all mines respect the same standards.
"If we come back and we find that dangers have not been corrected, we can give them a fine," said Nadeau.
The fines can range from $500 to $25,000.
He expected the investigation into Dunn's death to be completed within the year.Coffin said if the CSST concludes that any of the company's safety practices need to be changed, the company will make sure those changes are fully implemented.