The United Steelworkers union (USW) is lobbying members of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly to improve labour laws and the Fatalities Inquiries Act as it applies to workplace deaths.
"We believe that workers in Manitoba should be able to sign up to join a union and a 50-per-cent-plus-one majority should prevail," USW Local 7913 President Cory Szczepanski said in a recent release. "We also say workers involved in a labour dispute shouldn't be threatened with use of replacement workers."
Replacement workers pose a serious threat to USW members in Thompson who go into bargaining with Vale Inco next year.
USW members in Sudbury, Ont. have been locked in a bitter dispute with Brazil-based Vale for 10 months. Vale is using replacement workers – a move the Steelworkers say typically prolongs strikes and encourages violence, particularly in resource-based communities like Sudbury and Thompson where labour disputes feature so prominently in the community.
"We don't need the kind of tactics Vale Inco is using in Sudbury to find their way to Thompson," says Wayne Skrypnyk, USW area coordinator for Manitoba. "I lived in Thompson. I can't imagine what would happen if Vale Inco tries that. But I do know that the government can easily prevent the use of replacement workers as BC and Quebec have done, to ensure the safety and security of our members, their families and their communities."
The USW is also lobbying for better inquests into workplace fatalities. The union says the current judicial model is outdated, legalistic, takes too long and delivers little in the way of resolution or closure. The USW recommends a modern Coroner's Inquest model like that in place in Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and other provinces.
The USW lobby involves union members from a variety of industries across Manitoba including Ed Hinsburg, from Brandon, who is president of the USW Southern Manitoba Area Council.
"It is a great opportunity to meet, talk and convince our representatives in the legislature that these issues are important to working people," says Hinsburg. "We've had some good meetings and we hope that the MLAs have listened and will take action on these important issues."