aptn Investigates: Hurting for Work

“Hand-bombing” trash bins not allowed under City of Winnipeg
By Melissa Ridgen

An APTN Investigates story that showed temporary Indigenous labourers hand-bombing trash bins into waste collection trucks provoked an investigation that will examine if there’s a breach of contract.

In 2012, the City of Winnipeg hired a private company to do waste collection to save taxpayers up to $4.5 million a year. APTN discovered the company doing the job, Emterra, uses temporary day labourers, many of whom are indigenous men with criminal records and were filmed lifting and tossing the garbage and recycling bins over the course of a four-month investigation.

“Under the current automated cart collection contracts, manual cart tipping is not allowed without the City’s approval,” said a statement from the City.

The City of Winnipeg launched an investigation the day the story, “Hurting for Work”, aired.

According to Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health, since 2013 there have been five “serious incidents” involving those doing work for Emterra. In addition, there have been 19 safety complaints from workers and citizens.

The department wouldn’t elaborate on the serious incidents.

In the past two years, the province has issued 12 stop work orders and 58 improvement orders to Emterra for safety concerns. One stop work order was issued to EZ Workforce, the day labour agency where truck drivers find trash collectors, or swampers as they’re known in the business.

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.

“As soon as you raised this issue with my office I asked that the CAO to initiate an investigation so we can get to the bottom of it, and that investigation is ongoing now,” said Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

We found one swamper who had been knocked down by a van then run over by a garbage truck.

“I fell underneath and the tires drove over me twice. Two sets of wheels,” says 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 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.

In comparison, swampers in Edmonton, as city workers, earn almost $30/hr. They have union protection and even a better title – refuse collector.

CUPE unionized the Winnipeg Emterra shop in 2013. That’s around the time Emterra started contracting out drivers and making them find swampers.

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.”

After “Hurting for Work” aired, EZ Workforce wrote a letter to APTN pointing out that while workers do not get paid vacation, they do get 4% vacation pay on every pay cheque.

As well, EZ Work Force said workers aren’t “hired and fired” every day. As day labourers they’re hired for single day contracts.

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”

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.”

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