Severance Pay for Westray Miners
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Westray Severance Closer to Reality
This article appeared in
The Calgary Herald
Calgary, Saturday, 20 December 1997
HALIFAX (CP) More than 100 people thrown out of work by the Westray mine explosion are a step closer to receiving severance cheques.
The federal government has officially withdrawn its right to the abandoned mine site in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, freeing up several millions of dollars worth of assets to cover the employees' claim.
A lawyer for the United Steelworkers of America, the union that represents the workers, says there should be more than enough equipment and assets to cover the $1.2-million claim.
"We're not talking about bricks and mortar, trying to sell a pile of junk," David Roberts said Friday. "We've got mining machines, unused mining equipment that is of interest to any mine operator in North America."
One never-used mining machine, worth millions of dollars, has been sitting in a warehouse for over five years. It is believed Devco is interested in some of the equipment for its Cape Breton mines.
Westray exploded in May 1992, killing 26 men. When it closed down forever a few months later, 117 people lost their jobs.
Under Nova Scotia labor law, workers laid off without notice are entitled to twelve weeks' severance pay unless the company can prove the layoff occurred due to circumstances beyond its control.
When interest is factored in, the Westray employees are entitled to between $5,000 and $12,000 each, depending on their salary.
The claim went before the Labor Standards Tribunal in September 1995, but the board decided to defer to the Westray inquiry, which was about to open hearings.
Justice Peter Richard's mandate included determining if the disaster had been preventable and whether neglect, on anyone's part, caused or contributed to it the same issues before the tribunal.
The judge answered both questions in a report released Dec. 1, concluding Westray management had been derelict in its duty to operate the mine safely.
The union will rely on those findings when the tribunal reconvenes Dec. 30.
"(Justice Richard) could not have been more blunt or clear," Roberts said. "This is the polar opposite from due diligence."
If the tribunal upholds the claim, the employees won't be paid until the assets are sold.
The union has asked the Nova Scotia government to speed up the process by paying the claim now and recovering the money when the assets are sold.
On Thursday, in its response to the Westray report, the government promised the assets would be used to cover the employees' claim. But it made no commitment to an up-front payment.
The federal government has first call on the assets after paying out about $80 million to honor a loan guarantee to Curragh Inc., the company that developed the mine.
Industry Minister John Manley confirmed Ottawa's position in a letter to Public Works Minister Don Downe this week.
The Nova Scotia government plans to dismantle two coal-storage towers and conveyor lines at the site. A large building housing offices and a warehouse and other structures will remain, but it's unclear what use they will have.
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First uploaded: 1997 December 22