Vale mine death plea disappoints union
The union that represents workers at Vale says a $1-million fine and guilty plea related to the 2011 deaths of two of its miners aren’t enough.
The nickel miner’s plea agreement was the largest fine ever levied under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act. Vale pleaded guilty to three charges, but six other charges were dropped.
“[The fine] will not have an impact,” said Mike Bond, chair of the health, safety and environment for Steelworkers Local 6500.
The union conducted its own eight-month investigation into the tragedy, and Bond maintains the company should have faced criminal charges.
“We need support from the enforcement bodies that are there to protect and hand out penalties and discipline,” he said.
The plea agreement means the case will not go to trail, and Bond said Vale won’t have to answer questions about what happened.
“In our views, the facts will never be on the books,” he said.
Sudbury Police investigated the deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram, but announced last year that no criminal charges would be laid.
‘They accept they are responsible’
Even though the plea agreement won’t satisfy everyone, it’s important to note that Vale did admit fault, says an industrial relations professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury.
“Yes, it is the biggest penalty, but it’s not the main issue there,” Louis Durand said. “It’s the fact that Vale ... accept that there was some mistake. They accept that they are responsible.”
Jordan Fram’s mother said the guilty plea by the company has brought some relief.
“Honestly, I really didn’t want to see a trial because I wasn’t sure how we could all take going in there day after day,” Wendy Fram said.
Despite that, Fram said she still questions whether the resolution of her son’s case will lead to safer mines.
“Why is Vale not supporting an inquiry or a review into mining practices in Ontario,” she asked.
Vale has declined to comment further about the case, but said it has made 31 changes to improve safety since the deaths.
The company also said the fine will not impact the current operations in Sudbury.
Globally, Vale reported profits of $424 million dollars in the last quarter, which was down 84 per cent from the year before.
Ontario's labour minister called the fine a strong message to companies in Ontario.
"The fine levied in the amount of $1.05 million is the highest total fine ever levied in Ontario for contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act," Yasir Naqvi said.
"[It sends] a very strong message that health and safety of workers is a top priority and there is a very serious cost attached to it if the laws are not followed."
The Steelworkers and the families have called for a public inquiry to examine mining safety in Ontario. Naquvi said he's not looking at an inquiry as an option, but said he hopes to announce a review of mining safety shortly.
A mandatory coroner's inquest will also be held to examine the deaths of Fram and Chenier. Sudbury coroner Dr. Craig Muir said now that the case is no longer before the courts, the inquest can proceed. He said it will likely be scheduled sometime in the next year.
USW Local 6500 Double Fatalities Investigation Report