Union leaders and Skeena Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach are criticizing the federal government for lack of action to protect tugboat crews on the British Columbia coast and are making an urgent demand for reform.
Bachrach was in Prince Rupert on Feb. 10 to commemorate the second anniversary of Ingenika sinking which killed Captain Troy Pearson and deckhand Charley Cragg. He told The Northern View he was “appalled” at the lack of action.
“Two years have passed and the federal government has done virtually nothing to address the risks tugboat workers face,” the MP, who is also transportation critic, said. “It is unconscionable that despite the loss of two lives and the many reported accidents each year, the Minister has dragged his feet on this issue.”
Also speaking out after the commemoration was Herminder Singh-Kailley, secretary-treasurer of the BC Labour Federation and Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 400.
Singh-Kailley told The Northern View the government needs to act and make a few things happen.
“One of them is that government needs to really shore up the safety regulations, especially if we’re talking about this tragedy — in particular in the tugboat industry on the West Coast,” he said. “And I also believe that both federal and provincial governments need to increase the maximum fines when employers are found criminally negligent in the death of a worker.”
“The price of earning a living should never be a worker’s life. The price of turning a profit should never be a family’s loss. The price of moving goods to market should never be the grief and mourning of friends and colleagues,” he said, addressing the crowd.
“We were told it was a storm that killed Troy Pearson and Charlie Craig, the 70-knot winds, the -20C temperatures, the waves, the deadly chill of the water. But they never had to face that storm if not for their employer’s decision to send them out. Their employer would never have been able to make that fatal call if not for the safety rules and enforcement that do a better job of protecting balance sheets and boardrooms,” he said.
Singh-Kailley said while the news this week that charges had been laid against the employer is welcomed, far more needs to be done.
“It shouldn’t take the loss of another worker for all governments and employers to act to make workplaces safer, to strengthen and enforce the rules and ensure employers who break them face real penalties so they know that “kill a worker - go to jail” isn’t just a slogan, but it’s a promise.”
“We stand with [the families of the lost mariners] in solidarity and in our determination to see change. And we commit to the right of every working person here today, every working person across this province to go home at the end of their workday as safe and as healthy as when they started. We mourn the dead and we’re going to fight like hell for the living,” the BC Labour Federation representative said.
Bachrach said for two years, he has called upon the Feds for regulatory changes that include mandatory commercial inspections for commercial towing vessels under 15 tons; increased minimum crew requirements to ensure safe operation; and limits on the size ratio between tugboats and the loads they tow.
“Too often we see the federal government bow to industry pressure and bring in weak self-regulation regimes, or worse, voluntary programs that don’t work,” Bachrach said. “The mariners who go to work every day on these small tugs deserve no less than strong regulations, strongly enforced.”
“The alarm is real. Since 2017, there have been an average of 22 reportable incidents per month involving tugs or workboats,” the ILWU stated in a Feb. 10 media release.
“To state the obvious, no government, no rule, no law and no regulation ever prevents an operator from safely maintaining, operating and crewing a vessel. Failing to do is a choice the operator makes,” the union stated. “Operators have been given a chance to step up voluntarily and comply. They chose not to. We need a mandatory program now. Ottawa has the funds available; we demand Ottawa spend them.”
Woods and the union want an end to Ottawa’s “failed voluntary safety-inspection system — and immediate redirection of the program’s funds toward hiring inspectors to conduct mandatory inspections” for small vessels.
The ILWU has been ringing the alarm bell for change wanting the Federal government and Transport Canada (TC) to “take meaningful steps” to increase safety and environmental standards in the West Coast Tow Boat industry.
In response, TC implemented the Small Vessel Compliance Program, which is a “company-friendly,” voluntary system for businesses, ILWU said.
“TC has admitted to union officials the program has been a failure: only 77 vessels out of 1,340 have been registered,” the union statement reads. “Given that 80 per cent of all Canada’s small, uninspected tugs work here in our Pacific Region, that’s alarming.”
According to ILWU, Transportation Safety Board has been pressing Transport Canada for more than 10-years to regulate vessels under 15 tons, close regulatory loopholes, launch a concentrated inspection program with enforcement of existing regulations, as well as make changes in regulations to include all tugs, including those under 15 tons to be included in TC’s inspection and enforcement program.
l Tug Safety Backgrounder: