Young Workers Too Often Fall Prey to Precarious, Unsafe Work, CAW says

March 10, 2011, 12:00 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza is warning against unsafe conditions for young workers who are often unaware of their rights on the job, including the right to refuse unsafe work.

Lewenza is responding to a $350,000 fine imposed March 9 by the Ministry of Labour on the Metro Ontario grocery store chain following the death of a 17 year old worker and CAW member who died from head injuries sustained on the job.  He had only been on the job for a few weeks at the time of his accident in August 2009.

According to Ontario Ministry of Labour statistics, as many as 10,000 young workers (defined as aged 15-24) are injured on the job and unable to return to work the next day. Just as many young workers file claims after requiring first aid due to workplace injuries, but are able to continue working.

"Employers are failing in their responsibility to ensure young workers are safe on the job through comprehensive health and safety training," said Lewenza.  "The retail sector is a major employer in this country, but we've seen conditions gradually erode, where there is much higher staff turnover due to, erratic shift scheduling, limited health and safety considerations and poor wages and benefits.

In the incident that caused his death, the young worker was helping a manager clear materials from the top of a cooler. The young worker stepped onto the drop ceiling to remove a box from the top of the cooler, as requested by the manager, and fell through the ceiling, suffering a grave head injury.

"Employers must stop taking advantage of young workers by providing them very limited health and safety training and then directing them to work outside the scope of that training," said Lewenza.

"There is no bargaining table in this sector where our union does not insist on creating more full time and sustainable employment.  We are determined to end the precarious nature of these jobs."

The CAW represents 22,000 retail and wholesale workers across the country, including workers at Metro Inc., Loblaws, Sobeys, The Bay, Sears and Zellers.

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