Miner’s Unions Across Canada Question Legality of Random Drug Testing

Lynsey Kitching
 
Unless you’re an Olympic athlete, the thought of having to give a urine sample on demand probably just seems weird, especially if you hadn’t done anything suspicious to deserve a drug test. 
 
That is, unless your professions involves working with heavy machinery, explosives and in a rough and potentially dangerous terrain.
 
For the Mining Industry, random drug testing is another issue that has risen to the top for yet another government, industry and union showdown.
 
Brett Chapman a member’s representative from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 who represents the workers at Anglo-American’s Peace River Coal (PRC) mine says, “We don’t support random drug testing at all as it is the union’s position that this practice is against an employee’s constitutional rights. We do not support workers being intoxicated on site, nor do we want to see an employee bring any illegal substances onto the site. At this point we cannot support the employer’s position on randomly testing employees because in most cases, the current method of testing does not identify as to whether an employee is under the influence or not. “
 
The reason Chapman says ‘at this point’ is because the Supreme Court of Canada is currently hearing a case brought to the court on Dec. 7 arising from a CEP union member’s grievance. This Saint John, New Brunswick Irving Pulp and Paper employee was randomly tested and the results of the test were that the employee had a blood alcohol level of zero. The CEP member felt there was no justification for him having to take the test.
 
The Supreme Court ruling in this case, will set a precedent in Canada and the court will decide once and for all if random drug testing is legal.
 
“I understand the company’s point of view where they want to make sure people are clean and sober on site, absolutely. We just don’t agree with random testing as we believe that this testing is an invasion of privacy and as such against the Constitution. Until the decision comes down from the Supreme Court ruling, we’ll battle this issue every time. “ says Chapman.
Chapman says that many workers out at PRC, where random drug testing does take place, feel the testing is a personal invasion of their rights to privacy and as such infringes on their constitutional rights.
 
Another mine in town which is doing random drug testing is Teck at their Quintette mine. The company is currently involved in a legal situation down in the Elk Valley and the random drug testing which started there in early December. The petition from union members which was brought forth will be on hold until February.
 
Ray Proulx, representative from Teck says they are doing random drug testing with the employees at the Quintette mine.
 
He says, “At Teck, we want to ensure the safest environment for our workers and to make sure everyone goes home at the end of the day.”
 
Proulx explains the testing remains random and anyone who works in the pit is eligible to be tested. They have a computer system, which is operated by an outside contractor. The machine will shuffle up everyone’s employee numbers and then select people randomly to be tested.
 
When asked about marijuana and its ability to stay in someone’s system for days or weeks, Proulx says the company feels even if there are only residual traces of substances; there is still cause for concern from the company’s perspective.
 
If an employee of Teck goes into treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, their short term disability benefits would kick in for the duration of the treatment.
 
The whole debate rests on the decision of the Supreme Court out in New Brunswick.
 
In Alberta, there is a similar issue going on with Suncor Energy and its desire to begin random drug testing on their workers at its oilsands operations in Fort McMurray. 
 
The arbitration there was postponed until Jan. 2, 2013.