Investigation into city’s waste collection finds “appropriate” safe work conditions

Three months after it launched an investigation, the City of Winnipeg says it’s satisfied that trash collection workers are safe despite an APTN Investigates report that shows numerous examples to the contrary.

“The information gathered through our investigation demonstrates that appropriate safe work procedures and policy are in place,” says a statement from city spokeswoman Lisa Fraser. “We will continue to work with the contractor to ensure that all safety and health requirements are being met in the field.”

An APTN Investigates story showed Indigenous day-labourers hand-bombing large trash bins into waste collection trucks. They’re known as ‘swampers.’ The bins are to be lifted by trucks equipped with mechanical arms.

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

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

The department wouldn’t elaborate on the serious incidents.

APTN found one swamper who had been knocked down by a van and run over by the garbage truck he was working on. He suffered pelvic and foot injuries.

In the past two years, the province has issued 12 stop work orders and 58 improvement orders to the city’s waste collection contractor, Emterra Environmental, for safety concerns. One stop work order was issued to EZ Workforce, the day-labour agency where truck drivers pickup swampers as needed.

In the past three years there have been 118 injuries reported to the Workers Compensation Board.

“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,” Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said when the story initially aired in October 2015.

Fraser said city officials have met with Emterra “to review their obligations under their contract” and “requested that the contractor conduct a full investigation and provide a response regarding the concerns raised related to personal protective equipment, service standards, collection methods, employee training requirements and health and safety.”

Both the city and Manitoba safe-work authorities have reportedly stepped-up spontaneous field inspections.

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 Investigates discovered the company doing the job 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.

Host, Producer / Winnipeg

Melissa is a proud Red River Metis and award-winning journalist who has spent more than 24 years covering crime, courts, politics, business and entertainment for newspapers in four provinces.
She then joined APTN Investigates in 2009 and APTN National News in 2018 and in that time has garnered numerous awards and nominations including from the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network (2013), Canadian Association of Journalists (2016, 2019) and Canadian Screen Awards (2018, 2019).