EDMONTON — Oilsands giant Suncor Energy has won the latest round in its push to randomly test thousands of workers for drugs and alcohol in northern Alberta.
A Court of Queen’s Bench judge has quashed a 2014 arbitration panel ruling that determined the proposed testing plan would violate the privacy of union workers represented by Unifor.
Justice Blair Nixon said the panel should have considered evidence about alcohol and drug incidents involving all workers at Suncor, including non-union contract employees.
“By focusing only on the bargaining unit, the majority (of the panel) expressly excluded consideration of relevant evidence,” Nixon wrote.
“The majority ignored evidence pertaining to some two-thirds of the individuals working in the oilsands operation.”
Nixon said a new arbitration panel should review the company’s random testing plan, which Suncor first announced in 2012.
Suncor had presented evidence of 2,276 drug and alcohol “security incidents” recorded between 2004 and 2013.
Unifor, which has been challenging the random drug testing proposal, took the position that only 12 of the incidents involved union members.
Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said the company is pleased with Nixon’s ruling. She said random testing aims to protect the safety of the public, workers and the environment.
“What is important for Suncor is really looking at the driver behind our desire to include random testing in our already comprehensive safety program,” she said.
“We wouldn’t be pursuing this if we didn’t feel it was absolutely necessary.”
Unifor spokesman Dave Moffat said the union will appeal the judge’s decision and maintains that random testing violates the basic rights of union members.
“We are disappointed but we will proceed through the system and hope for a satisfactory result,” he said.
“It is important to all Canadians that the randomness of this kind of personal invasion is something that we have to make sure gets vetted through our system and that everybody understands its seriousness and its implications.”
The union, which represents about 3,800 workers at Suncor, said the company already has a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy that includes post-incident and reasonable cause testing.
It said that policy is not affected by the ongoing litigation over the random testing plan.
The court ruling was handed Wednesday as Suncor flew almost 4,000 employees and contract workers from its operations north of Fort McMurray due to the massive wildfire burning in the region.
Seetal said emergency staff remain who are working to protect the site.
“Those remaining are essential personnel,” she said.
“These folks have worked tirelessly to protect people and our assets and we can’t thank them enough for their hard work and diligence.”