By Melissa Ridgen
While the City of Winnipeg investigates heath and safety concerns involving temporary day laborers used to pick up the city’s residential waste, a city spokeswoman revealed the method of collection may violate the city’s contract with a private trash company.
APTN Investigates showed dozens of mostly indigenous men being used to “hand-bomb” heavy garbage and recycling bins into the back of collection trucks.
“Under the current automated cart collection contracts, manual cart tipping is not allowed without the City’s approval,” said a statement from the city.
A spokesperson from Emterra Environmental, the trash collector, has said the dozens of men lifting and tossing the bins aren’t supposed to.
According to Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health, since 2013 there have been five “serious incidents” involving those doing work for the city’s garbage contractor, Emterra. In addition, there have been 19 safety complaints from workers and citizens.
In the past two years the province has issued 12 stop work orders and 58 improvement orders to Emterra for safety concerns.
APTN found that in the past three years there have been 118 injuries reported to the Workers Compensation Board. Fifty-seven are categorized as “non-specified” injuries. Others are sprains, strains and tears involving workers who heave and toss 64 gallon bins for a living.
CUPE represents workers in Emterra’s recycling plant. The union’s president Mike Davidson said he is going to press Manitoba’s labour minister to investigate.
Most Emterra drivers are contracted and they find swampers — a term used for guys who empty the trash bins–through a temporary day-labour agency.
We found a swamper who earlier this year, had been knocked down by a van then run over by a garbage truck while working.
“I fell underneath and the tires drove over me twice. Two sets of wheels,” said Clayton Wiggins.
The truck driver had no idea what had happened “until one of the swampers warned him that I got ran over. Then he had to go over (me) because one of the tires had stayed on me for a bit.”
Wiggins suffered a crushed pelvis and broken foot. Police investigating the accident discovered he had warrants for petty crimes, so he was arrested and sent back to jail to heal.
Seven months later he was released and back cleaning up the city’s trash.
Despite the safety citations Emterra, according to the province, has the best safety rating in its field and pays the lowest premium to WCB.
Winnipeg fully privatized garbage collection in 2012 to save taxpayers $4–$4.5 million a year.
In comparison, swampers in Edmonton, as city workers, earn almost $30/hr. They have union protection and even a better title – refuse collector.
An advocate for ex-cons says hard labour for low pay and no job security does little to stave off the pull back to the streets.
“We’ve certainly gotten into a situation where we’re spending an awful lot of money on police and not as much money on giving people opportunities to have a stable form of employment and to be able to support their family, pay taxes and to contribute to the community,” said John Hutton of the John Howard Society.
“You’ve got to scramble to find any job that you can because you’ve got to be paying that rent. It’s harder to find a job because you’ve been away from that workforce for a while. Maybe you haven’t been in the work force and oh yeah, you’ve got that criminal record. Could Somebody exploit that? Certainly.”
Regarding worker safety, Bill Saleem of EZ Workforce says “we’re under compliance on this end. I can’t speak on behalf of Emterra or any of the drivers but we are under compliance from the guys they get here.”
Emterra founder and CEO Emmie Leung had scheduled an interview with APTN but canceled abruptly due to “unforeseen personal issues.”
Emails to the company for comment went unanswered.
Workplace Safety and Health said “routine inspections (of the city’s trash collection) are ongoing”
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman insists worker health and safety is paramount.
“These are Winnipeggers at the end of the day and obviously we want to ensure that their safety and health is being protected as it should be.”