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Westray tragedy +20

Despite fatalities, still no prosecutions under Westray Act.

Dateline: Tuesday, May 08, 2012

from the USW with YouTube video by Samanthan Bayard

On the 20th anniversary of the Westray Mine explosion, the United Steelworkers union (USW) is launching a renewed effort to ensure enforcement of the 2004 Westray Act, landmark changes to the Criminal Code intended to make corporations, their directors and executives criminally accountable for the health and safety of workers.

"We made history when we led the way for the Westray Act to go forward," said USW National Director Ken Neumann today. "There needs to be better and more consistent enforcement by police and prosecutors."

Ken Neuman speaks on the need for prosecution. Defence Minister Peter MacKay also speaks.

Neumann said the campaign will target attorneys-general across the country, whose job it is to see that the Criminal Code is upheld. Members of Parliament, especially those who were sitting members when the House of Commons unanimously passed the Westray Act, will also be reminded that the job is not done until the enforcement is a reality.

"If the Westray Act is properly enforced, more negligent bosses will be held to account for putting workers" lives at risk and ultimately we will see fewer fatalities," said Neumann.

"We are tired of workers' death and injury being considered an acceptable cost of doing business."

The Ottawa announcement of the campaign included participation by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Nova Scotia MP Megan Leslie. MacKay's riding of Central Nova is home to the site of the former Westray Coal mine, which exploded in the early morning of May 9, 1992. An entire shift of 26 men died when a spark ignited a pocket of methane gas causing a massive explosion. The bodies of 11 miners were never recovered.

MacKay's influence was instrumental in gaining all-party support for the Westray Act.

Also in Ottawa was Vernon Theriault, a former Westray miner and Medal of Bravery recipient for his work on the rescue and recovery team in 1992. The struggle for justice is never-ending for the survivors, Theriault said.

"The struggle now is to make sure the law works for current and future workers, the ones who put their lives on the line for corporations," he said.

The anniversary is being commemorated in Stellarton, NS, on Wednesday, May 9, with a series of events organized by the Westray Families Group. The activities will include an early morning vigil and an evening memorial service.

"I can't help thinking that the reality of corporate greed, lack of political will and oversight, bad managers and a continuing lack of justice are still with us today," said Allen Martin, a member of the Westray Families Group, whose brother Glenn was one of the fallen Westray miners.

"People like my brother Glenn are still dying today because of the same self-serving attitude of corporations and governments," Martin said. "How sad is that?"

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