Work at the troubled Eastern Power gas plant on Oil Springs Line has been stopped.
Dan Marshall, a pipefitter at the site, tells The Independent, the Ministry of Labour was on the job site Thursday and stopped work after finding electrical wires had been activated on some of the equipment through the night.
Ministry of Labour officials were not immediately available for comment.
The move comes after the 200 workers walked off the job Tuesday. Union officials say safety procedures in the plant have been largely ignored and they’re worried for the safety of their workers.
Mickey Cataford, representative of Local 530 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, stood on Oil Springs Line Tuesday with the rest of the 200 skilled workers who walked off the job to protest what they call unsafe work conditions.
This spring, the Ministry of Labour admitted there were 192 work orders issued against the company building the gas power plant after The Globe and Mail detailed a litany of problems at the plant since construction began in 2013. In one incident, a beam fell to the floor, sending workers running for safety.
The situation hasn’t improved, says Cataford, who adds that normally he would work within the plant’s safety committee instead of airing his concerns in the media. But Cataford says he and his members have tried that route repeatedly and nothing has changed. “We’re fed up. We don’t know what to do anymore,” says Cataford, adding some workers have told him they simply can’t take it anymore.
“I will never sleep again if someone is hurt here,” he says.
The walkout was prompted when pipefitters went to work and found the piping around their work area had been activated without their knowledge. Normally, work sites are tightly controlled, with areas being locked down and workers signing in before going near equipment being worked on by other trades.
Ross Tius of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 663 says his workers refused to work in the area, without knowing how the pipes had been changed. They joined a plant-wide walkout which lasted for the day.
Tius says so far the owners of Eastern Power, the Vogt brothers, refuse to deal with their concerns face to face. The plant’s safety officer walked away from the plant when the walkout started. He told The Independent he expected talks to be ongoing today. Calls to President Gregory Vogt were not returned by press time.
Tius says it is critical the safety issues be dealt with. “This is the most critical point of construction,” he says noting the plant is about to be commissioned and energized.
A flyer distributed at the plant gates charges that unlicensed workers are on site performing the work of tradesmen without taking proper safety precautions. “Eastern Power Limited continues to jeopardize the safety of all the workers on site… by not even informing trades supervisors that there are new hazards to their work because of the commission work performed by the unlicensed workers,” reads the letter.
Both Cataford and Tius say the Ministry of Labour has not taken their concerns seriously.
“The MOL (Ministry of Labour) has been here 200 times and has taken no actions on the issues we think are important,” says Cataford. “We’re afraid for our members.”
“There is a climate of frustration here and nothing is happening to improve safety on the job site,” says Tius. “The Ministry should be here enforcing the Labour Act…every part of the Act.”
Ministry of Labour officials, in an email to The Independent says the ministry has taken the issues seriously and has laid charges in the past.
Cataford says speculation is high that the Liberal government may be working behind the scenes hindering Ministry of Labour investigations.
The McGuinty government moved the power plant to Courtright after it cancelled the project which was already under construction under mounting political pressure during the 2008 election during due to political pressure in Sept. 2011.
Whatever is happening Tius says the unions are trying to build a better relationship with the heads of Eastern Power, however the company seems unwilling to deal with any of the safety issues face to face, prefering instead to have the problems aired at the Ontario Labour Relations Board. “I’ve had seven complaints at the board and I’ve won them all. And I have seven more to come.”
Until now, workers were relucantant to speak out, adds Tius, saying if they complained, they would be laid off. But he says it is time to speak out. “I will not put our people at risk,” says Tius adding the labour and safety relations is “dysfunctional” at the plant. “And you can put a capital D on that.”