Investigation into Bluewater Bridge workers COVID concerns continues

The Bluewater Bridge Sarnia

Employment and Social Development Canada is saying little about customs and immigration officers at the Bluewater Bridge refusing to work over COVID-19 concerns.

Eleven members of the Custom and Immigration Union have refused to work at the Bluewater Bridge since Dec. 27.

CIU National President Mark Weber says the members “exercised their right to refuse unsafe work due to management not following up-to-date public health rules and instructing employees to report to the workplace who should have been in isolation.”

Weber says the CBSA also isn’t doing any contact tracing such as telling employees when coworkers have been ill.

The union says 25 of the authority’s 200 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 12 days. “Many of these cases are due to workplace exposure as the members had no other exposures other than working with positive co-workers,” says Weber.

Union members are also concerned, he says, about more travellers coming into Canada with the highly contagious virus. “Since the 72 hour test rule went back into effect there’s been a significant decrease in vehicles but an increase in positive cases returning,” says Weber. Many require direct contact with agents.

The Labour Program, a division of the federal department, enforces Canada’s Labour Code in federally regulated workplaces, like border crossings.

“The Labour Program has been made aware of a possible health and safety issue at the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, and is determining what compliance and enforcement actions, such as an investigation or an inspection, are required,” said Saskia Rodenburg, media relations officer with Employment and Social Development.

“For confidentiality reasons, the Labour Program cannot comment on any specific findings, nor publicly share any documents at any stage of an inspection or an investigation.” 

Weber says the federal ministry has been investigating for the past four days.

Meantime, Allan Donovan, a media relations officer for the Custom Border Service Agency, says the agency is following health and safety rules.

“The CBSA works in close cooperation with Health Canada, our employees and the union to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of all employees while effectively carrying out the agency’s mandate and limiting the spread of COVID-19,” he said in an email to The Independent.

“All frontline staff are equipped with personal protective equipment that is used per existing standard operating procedures.”

Donovan says all public health guidelines are being followed.

And, he says “it is important to note that when a positive COVID-19 case is identified within the CBSA, a notice is sent out to all impacted staff in the workplace so that proper follow up measures can be taken as directed by public health.”

Donovan did not directly respond to The Independent’s question as to whether workers with COVID-19 were being directed to continue working.