Random drug test plan draws ire from union
A random drug and alcohol pilot project for oilsands workers has angered the union representing more than 3,000 Suncor employees, claiming the tests violate the rights and dignity of workers.
According to Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the new random drug test program — which was unveiled Wednesday — is a “humiliating invasion of an individual’s privacy that has no proven impact on workplace safety,” he said. “There is little evidence to link random drug testing results to less substance abuse or a safer workplace.”
On Wednesday, representatives from Alberta’s energy and construction industry announced that they would participate in a two-year pilot project titled the Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project (DARRPP).
Random workplace testing will not begin immediately. Over the summer and early fall, companies participating in the project will put appropriate testing systems and processes in place. The testing is expected to begin in late 2012 and early 2013.
DARRPP will report its findings and recommendations to the province, and participating stakeholders and companies, in 2014. Participating companies include Total E&P Canada, the Oil Sands Safety Association, Construction Owners Association of Alberta and Canadian Natural Resources Limited.
“Alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace poses serious health and safety risks to the individuals, their co-workers and communities,” said DARRPP administrator Pat Atkins.
“Participating employers will have drug and alcohol programs that ensure employees who test positive are fairly treated and receive appropriate care.”
According to a DARRPP media release, the fate of a worker without a dependency who tests positive depends on the employee’s specific circumstances, as well as the employer’s own policies and practices.
The release also disputed the accusation that mandatory drug testing violates employee and human rights, quoting an information sheet from the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
“It is not the testing that triggers the protection of human rights law,” it said. “It is the treatment by the employer or employees who are dependent on drugs or alcohol.”
However, CEP Western Region Vice-President Jim Britton says testing bring more harm than good to workplace culture.
“CEP understands that in Fort McMurray and Suncor, there is a drug and alcohol issue that the company wants to address. We were prepared to sit down with them at the table and help address that issue,” said Britton.
“But simply random drug testing? It’s a privacy issue, a dignity issue. We were not consulted at all for this and are somewhat surprised that this is the solution they’re looking at.”
Instead, Britton would like to see a workplace education program that teaches employees and management how to deal with drug and alcohol use in the workplace.
He would also like to see initiatives that encourage employees struggling with substance abuse to come forward with their problems and seek help.
“Instead, I fear that random drug testing is going to drive it further underground,” he said.
“We obviously don’t support drug use in the workplace, but we’d much rather be proactive about this problem than reactive.”
CEP is no stranger to privacy issues surrounding random drug testing in the workplace. In 2009, CEP Local 900, which represents workers at an Imperial Oil refinery in Nanticoke, Ont., successfully convinced the province’s top court that companies cannot, without reasonable cause, enforce random drug tests on workers performing safety-sensitive jobs.
The grievance was filed in 2003, after the company introduced random drug testing in the workplace. The arbitration board claimed that Imperial Oil’s random drug testing without reasonable cause was an “unwarranted intrusion” on employees’ privacy and “an unjustifiable affront to their dignity.”