Swissport using temp workers with inadequate safety training, says union
One worker hospitalized after conveyor-belt mishap
(Canadian OH&S News) — Recent employee injuries at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport have occurred due to insufficient safety training of temporary workers in baggage handling, according to a claim by Teamsters Canada’s Local 419, the union that represents Pearson’s regular baggage workers.
A July 17 news release from Local 419 stated that Swissport Canada Handling Inc. had recently hired nearly 250 workers from a temp agency for safety-sensitive positions at the airport. Believing that the employer has compromised workplace safety, the union has filed a formal complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board.
“Our members normally get from three to four weeks of basic training to work on the ramp,” said Local 419 vice president Harjinder Badial. “They’ve been only given three to four days of actual training,” he added about the temp workers, who he said were hired in early May, “and it’s a serious concern, because there are so many different safety components when you’re loading and offloading an aircraft.”
Badial cited a recent incident in which an agency worker was injured when his hands became caught in a conveyor belt. “From what I understood, he was taken to hospital,” he said. “If the person was trained, he would know not to place his hands in a certain area when he’s putting bags on these conveyor belts.”
There have been a few other similar injuries, “and some of the stuff is basic stuff,” Badial added. In another instance, a temp employee left a ladder leaning against the tail of a parked aircraft, causing damage to the plane when the plane moved. “When you’re loading and offloading an aircraft, the aircraft actually moves quite significantly. It’s not really visible to the eye.”
In an e-mailed response to COHSN, Pierre Payette, Swissport Canada’s vice president of operations for Toronto, explained that the company had subcontracted the temp agency to deal with the summer travel rush — a right that the company has under its current collective agreement, he said.
“All workers employed by the subcontractors receive the same training and are required to meet the same industry standards as Swissport’s own employees,” wrote Payette. “We are confident that protocols are being followed.”
Payette added that all Swissport employees get at least ten days of classroom training before starting their new jobs. “In addition, employees go through on-the-job training specific to the role they will play. This is vital to ensure safe operations and is consistent with industry standards.”
But Local 419 believes that the employer hired the temp workers to put pressure on the union during current negotiations for a new collective agreement.
“They’ve been brought in to certainly undermine our bargaining, but at the same time, they’ve been brought in to, really, replace us if there is a labour dispute,” Badial speculated about the agency workers. “All they’ve done here is to reassure the airlines and any of their other customers at cargo, they’ve brought in these agency workers, anticipating a strike or, I’m even hearing now, a lockout.”
Swissport and Local 419 have been in negotiations since March, according to Badial. The current collective agreement was scheduled to expire on July 24, and contract talks resumed on July 21.
“Our focus definitely is on these agency employees in our bargaining,” said Badial.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which runs Pearson, did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment.
Teamsters Canada represents about 125,000 workers in a wide range of sectors across the country, nearly 700 of whom work for Swissport in various positions at the Pearson airport, according to information from the union.
“Safety is at the heart of everything we do at Swissport Canada,” said Payette.