TORONTO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--“The United Steelworkers Union (USW) remembers with heavy hearts the 28th anniversary of the devastating loss of 26 miners in the Westray Coal Mine explosion. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those lost and their Nova Scotia communities,” said Ken Neumann, USW National Director.
“There are many days that mean a lot to workers and their unions. One day in particular that stands out for Steelworkers is May 9. On that day, in 1992, at 5:18 a.m., a disaster struck the Westray Coal Mine in the tiny hamlet of Plymouth, Nova Scotia. A methane gas explosion and subsequent coal dust explosions ripped through the mine killing all 26 miners working the shift that night. Over the ensuing days, mine rescue teams attempted to find survivors without success. Eventually the bodies of 15 miners were retrieved but the remaining 11 have never been recovered,” recalls Stephen Hunt, USW Director for Western Canada.
The USW was in a union organizing drive at the mine at the time of the explosion. Workers had expressed serious concerns about the lack of health and safety they saw, and a lack of response by management and regulators. While the mine never re-opened, the Steelworkers have remained committed to the memory of those fallen workers, the families and communities that were ripped apart by this preventable tragedy. That commitment includes fighting for the living.
Following an inquiry calling for charges against employers whose actions lead to such horrific events, the USW spent a decade lobbying Parliament for Criminal Code changes. On March 31, 2004, after unanimous consent of Parliament, the “Westray Bill” became law.
“While this was a major victory in the battle for holding employers accountable, there is still much work to be done. After 16 years, there have been shockingly few prosecutions,” explains Marty Warren, USW Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
With the “Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law” campaign, the USW is pressing lawmakers, police and crown prosecutors to treat industrial accidents as potential crime scenes and prosecute accordingly.
The campaign will not stop until it is realized that killing workers is not “part of doing business” but a criminal act that should be punished accordingly.
“As we reflect on this May 9, 28 years after the explosion, let us honour those 26 miners, the families and communities whose lives were changed forever,” reminded Dominic Lemieux, USW Director for Quebec. “But let us also recommit to never giving up the continuing struggle to ensure a day when workers don’t have to worry about giving up their lives by just going to work.”