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Construction Firm, Also a Liberal Donor, Not Adequately Punished for Worker’s Death, Says BC Fed

Government ‘cares more about big business’ than worker safety, says Irene Lanzinger.

Andrew MacLeod 5 Apr

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

A company that the British Columbia Federation of Labour says got off too lightly after a worker died on its job site is also a major donor to the BC Liberal Party.

“The government cares more about these big businesses, many of whom donate to the Liberals, than they do about workers’ health and safety and whether or not a worker dies on the job,” said Irene Lanzinger, BC Fed president.

“We need to change this notion that an employer gets a slap on the wrist when a worker dies and there’s been some responsibility on their behalf,” she said.

In late March, WorkSafeBC said it had fined Onni Contracting Ltd., a subsidiary of the Onni Group of Companies, $48,719.50 for its role in the death of Sean Alexander Donetz in Kamloops in 2015.

Donetz was working for a subcontractor to Onni, the prime contractor on a shopping centre project, when he lost his balance and fell backwards from a lift that had no end guardrail. He plunged three metres to a concrete floor. He had not been using a fall protection system, a WorkSafeBC report said.

“As the prime contractor of a multi-employer workplace, the firm failed to ensure the co-ordination of the occupational health activities of employers, workers and other individuals at the workplace,” WorkSafeBC found. “This was a high-risk and repeated violation.”

In a letter to Labour Minister Shirley Bond Tuesday, Lanzinger asked why no Onni executives are facing jail time and why the fine was so small.

“Onni is a big company with the financial resources to write big cheques to causes it supports,” she wrote.

Lanzinger’s letter didn’t specify what cheques she meant, but a search of Elections BC’s donation database shows that Onni Contracting Ltd. gave the BC Liberal Party $171,540 between 2005 and 2015.

Dermod Travis from Integrity BC notes that related companies Onni Project Management Ltd., Onni Property Management Ltd. and RPMG Holdings Ltd. gave the BC Liberals a further $293,390 over that period.

Asked about Onni’s donations to the BC Liberals, WorkSafeBC spokesperson Scott McCloy said, “WorkSafeBC doesn’t see that. WorkSafeBC deals with employers and workers.”

Like all WorkSafeBC penalties, the fine to Onni was set using a formula, he said. “It was the maximum that could be applied for the size of the employer’s payroll and the severity of the incident.”

WorkSafeBC reported more than 185 work-related deaths in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Lanzinger said in a phone interview that the government has a role to play in changing attitudes about worker deaths and putting a regulatory framework in place that holds employers accountable when they are found to be at fault.

“The penalties are not high enough when a worker dies and there’s some mistake found on the part of the employer,” she said, adding there need to be more serious consequences. “We have raised these issues with the minister of labour many times.”  [Tyee]

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