CONVENTION RESOLUTION: Waiting for Too Long – The Need for a Processing Sector Safety Council
Robert Keenan, FFAW-Unifor Projects Manager
Establishing a processing sector safety council has been a major priority for FFAW for several years. Plant workers have protested in front of WorkplaceNL, a full plan for the proposed sector was submitted to WorkplaceNL two years ago, and the current ministers of WorkplaceNL and of Fisheries and Land Resources support the idea. Still, the establishment of the Processing Safety Council remains elusive, a stain on the credibility of WorkplaceNL and the processing companies who champion safety as a tool of public relations while vigorously opposing with all their political will a safety sector council that would help their employees.
Industry statistics show that processing plant workers continue to suffer high rates of lost time and workplace injuries. The lost time incident rate for processing plant workers was 54.5 percent higher than the provincial rate in 2016, an increase over the 2015 average of 48.3 percent.
At the recent triennial FFAW convention in Gander, a resolution on establishing a processing sector safety council was put to the floor requesting that a stand-alone processing sector safety council be established with or without the support of processing companies.
Incoming VP of the Industrial, Retail, and Offshore sector, Doretta Strickland, a worker with OCI in Triton, has been a vocal and passionate advocate for processing sector safety council. Doretta has worked in a fish plant for many years, and has experienced first-hand the dangers posed in the sector to herself and her co-workers. In a moving address on the convention floor, she spoke of trouble breathing at work due to the airborne materials produced during the processing of shellfish.
Doretta described co-workers, hunched over lunch tables, with puffers stuck in their mouths in hope of relief. She talked about having no energy, because it is hard working in a place where trying to breathe requires expending so much energy. She explained the difficulties of taking time off and going to doctors while trying to get enough work hours in an ever-shortening work season. Lastly, she told delegates of the challenges in getting her employer to implement change, to lighten the burden, and to accept some responsibility for the health of the workers it relies upon.
Other delegates, all women, stepped forward with stories that were tragically similar. The common themes were unusual exhaustion from work, the challenge presented by taking sick time, and the unwillingness of processing companies to make the needed changes to improve health and safety.
Emotions were quite high in the room when the resolution was put forward for voting. There was unanimous support for a stand-alone processing sector safety council. This needs to get done, for the sake of workers today and in the future.