Unions calling for inquest

Labour leaders are calling on the province to change the laws covering inquests and industrial accidents. On Monday the Chief Coroner said an inquest won't be called into the 1998 death of an Irving Oil refinery worker. But union leaders say a coroner's inquest should be mandatory after any workplace death

It was 9:30 in the morning on June 9th when an explosion and fire rocked the refinery. Bill Hackett was on duty that day and died in the explosion. A number of investigations were held into the accident including one by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission. It blamed the incident on a combination of mechanical failure and human misjudgment.

Because of these and other findings, the coroner decided an inquest would not be necessary. Not everyone agrees. Bill Ferron on the Saint John District Labour Council says inquests into workplace deaths should be mandatory.

"It's important that the public see this out in the open and everything's there and the public is assured that all the safety precautions that could have possibly be in place were in place."

Pat Riley of the provincial labour federation agrees. He says a coroner's inquest is the only way to get to the truth of what happened.

"People are not prone to speak up if they think their job is at risk."

Riley believes testifying at a coroner's inquest is the way around workers' fear of employer intimidation.

"He's going to be very hesitant to speak out and that's a very touchy situation. You can eliminate that fear, we believe, in many ways by having a coroner's inquest and taking testimony under oath."

NDP Leader Elizabeth Weir is calling on government to act. "If this is going to happen in a case where there's clear public interest to hold an inquest then we have to make changes to our Coroner's Act to require an inquest whenever there's a fatality in the workplace and I'm really urging the minister of Labour to join with me in making those changes."

The minister of Labour says if unions or Elizabeth Weir want to discuss their concerns, his department is willing to listen but Norm McFarlane says, at this point, he stands behind the Chief Coroner's decision not to call an inquest into the death of Bill Hackett.