Monday, October 1, 2012

Guilty pleas in 2007 CNRL tank collapse

More than five years after two workers were killed in a 2007 tank collapse on the CNRL Horizon site near Fort McMurray, the Edmonton Journal is reporting that SSEC Canada Ltd. (a Canadian Subsidiary to China's Sinopec) has pleaded guilty to three charges under the OHS Act.

The delay in proceeding reflects, in part, court proceedings where SSEC argued it had not been properly served. Eventually this was resolved by the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, and prosecution proceeded.

During the investigation of these deaths, the government also discovered SSEC had short-changed about 132 foreign workers about $3.17m in wages, overtime pay and holiday pay (meaning workers got about 10% of the pay they were due). As far as it is possible to tell, SSEC had signing authority on the workers' accounts, put the cash in (to create a paper trail showing payment) and then scooped it back out. The union that was supposed to protecting these workers (the Christian Labour Association of Canada) was forced to go to China to ensure one widow received payment of death benefits.

CNRL fronted the cash SSEC should have paid these workers but the wages remain unpaid, in part because the Chinese government (which owns Sinopac, which owns SSEC) says the workers got paid (cough, cough) and refuses to give the workers the money. So the province gave the cash back to CNRL.

Anyhow, sentencing will occur in January. The crown says it is seeking $500k maximum per charge. It it is likely the guilty plea will include creative sentencing.

-- Bob Barnetson

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