| CALGARY, Alberta, March 27
CALGARY, Alberta, March 27 Canada's largest oil
producer, Suncor Energy Inc, said on Thursday it will
appeal a legal decision preventing the company from carrying out
random drug and alcohol tests on workers at its northern Alberta
oil sands sites.
Suncor has been embroiled in a row with union Unifor over
random testing since July 2012 after the union filed a grievance
against the policy on the grounds it violated employees'
privacy, dignity and human rights.
On Wednesday, an independent arbitration panel sided with
Unifor, which represents 3,600 workers in the area around Fort
McMurray, ruling there is no evidence of an out-of-control drug
or alcohol culture at Suncor's sites.
"We are disappointed with the outcome and will be
appealing," said Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal.
"Over the last 20 years we have tried to address safety
concerns around drugs and alcohol but none of those measures
have appropriately mitigated the risk."
The appeal will be heard before the Court of Queen's Bench
in Alberta, at a date which is yet to be set.
There have been three deaths in the last seven years at
Suncor in which drugs and alcohol were a factor. The company
already tests workers before they are certified to work and
after any incidents.
The booming oil sands region around Fort McMurray has gained
a reputation for drug and alcohol abuse in recent years as
workers poured in from across Canada and around the world, lured
by high wages and plentiful work.
Northern Alberta's oil sands have an estimated 174 billion
barrels of reserves - the world's largest deposits behind Saudi
Arabia and Venezuela.
The population of Fort McMurray nearly doubled in 15 years
to 73,000, while another 40,000 people are classed as a
"non-permanent population" living on work sites or camps.
During the arbitration hearing, Suncor senior security
adviser Ian MacPhee gave evidence about drugs being found hidden
in roof panels, vents and laundry rooms on oil sands sites and
said there are indications of drug trafficking, such as finding
weighing scales and a sawed-off 22 caliber rifle.
MacPhee also said between 2004 and August 2013 there were
2276 security incidents at Suncor involving drugs and alcohol.
But Roland Lefort, head of Unifor local 707a, said Fort
McMurray and its surrounding work camps had no worse a drug and
alcohol problem than any other city and the bad reputation was
"This ruling is good news for Canadians in general. There
has to be some justification (for random testing)" Lefort said.
"This would be proving there's a drug and alcohol culture in
that workplace and proving there's a relationship between that
and the number of incidents, and Suncor could not do that."
The dispute between Suncor and Unifor has become a test case
for random drug and alcohol testing in the Canadian energy
industry. Unlike in the United States, where random tests are
common, in Canada they are only used in the transport industry.
Suncor intended to start randomly testing workers in
safety-sensitive jobs in October 2012 under a programme called
the Alberta Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project
The initiative is funded by participating companies,
including Total Canada and Canadian Natural Resources
"Certainly there are issues relating to alcohol and drugs on
the sites, they have always been a pressing concern," said
DARRPP coordinator Pat Atkins.
"From our perspective, we understand the need for privacy
but we also think it's important to protect workers, their
co-workers and the public."
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Bernard Orr)