A former health and safety officer in Saskatchewan says she was fired for trying to do her job.
Andrea Dunkle, who had worked in the Ministry of Labour for 15 years, took her case to the provincial legislature Thursday where, supported by members of the NDP opposition, she told reporters of her concerns.
Dunkle said that in January 2007 she prepared a report outlining safety deficiencies at the provincial jail in Saskatoon. Her investigation determined that guards at the jail did not have enough training on how to handle potential incidents at the jail, among other problems.
Twenty-two months later, in November 2008, a more senior bureaucrat reviewed Dunkle's report and overturned most of her findings.
Dunkle claims the move undermined her work as a safety officer and she tried to get the matter reviewed again. Her superiors, however, told her she was out of line and ordered her to leave the issue alone.
When she persisted, she was fired. She was given a number of warnings to back off and terminated on June 5, 2009.
"It was upsetting," Dunkle said Thursday. She added it was especially troublesome because she felt she was trying to promote safety in the workplace.
"I was very upset that the same law that I enforce ... I felt was being broken," she said.
Lack of training noted
Dunkle pointed out that her investigation into the Saskatoon jail was prompted by concerns raised by people working there.
According to Dunkle, she found a number of areas where jail staff lacked adequate training.
"Training, very specific, on how workers should do their job to protect themselves when they have to become involved with the inmates," Dunkle explained. "[Training for] when they're transporting prisoners, when they have to do takedowns of prisoners, when they have to break up fights of prisoners."
Opposition labour critic Andy Iwanchuk says Dunkle's experience is not an isolated case. He claims it reveals a pattern of government behaviour.
"The message is very clear. Keeping your mouth shut is how you keep your job with this government," Iwanchuk told reporters.
An official from the government countered that there have been no changes in how the province investigates workplace safety.
Mike Carr, an associate deputy minister with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour, said investigators are supposed to be neutral and unbiased and simply report their findings.
He said that if employees or the employer are not satisfied with the outcome, either party can take the matter further.
Carr said that in this particular case, the final determination — despite being counter to Dunkle's initial report — was not challenged.
Carr says once a final decision is made, the investigator's job is finished.
"From the perspective of the administration of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the matter was closed," Carr told reporters.
It was noted that employees at the jail did not fight the final outcome.
Iwanchuk, however, was unmoved. He suggested the government was more concerned about silencing critics than ensuring workers' safety.