The Ministry of Labour issued two orders last week regarding the operation of the Bonfield landfill site, including one requiring workers to be properly trained.
Ministry spokesman Matt Blajer confirmed Tuesday that the orders were issued following a site visit under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Blajer said the municipality was also ordered to ensure workers are outfitted with the proper personal equipment. But he said the ministry did not issue any stop-work orders.
Bonfield council members had been operating the landfill while the community’s 16 municipal employees are on strike. But members said last week they would not be opening the site Saturday due to escalating strife at the picket line.
Mayor Randy McLaren said Tuesday that the decision to close the landfill due to concerns for the safety and security of council members was made before the ministry orders were issued.
“It was more coincidental than anything,” he said, noting council members agreed to close the landfill after protesting Thursday forced the cancellation of meeting at the parish hall.
Deputy Mayor Tamela Price-Fry and Coun. Jane Lagassie say they were “held hostage” inside the parish hall while the mayor was being questioned by striking workers and ratepayers in the parking lot.
Price-Fry said she was inside the building with her husband, Lagassie and a person brought in to act as clerk for the meeting, but was unable to leave for about an hour because the exits were blocked.
Steve Boyle, a national representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the striking workers, responded, saying he was not aware of any CUPE members blocking the exits. He said union members were busy speaking to the mayor outside the parish hall. He also noted that police were on the scene and that the gathering dispersed peacefully.
On Monday, the union issued a release suggesting the closure of landfill is creating a bear problem.
“Closing the landfill, with no outlet for the community’s waste to be stored safely will not only prolong this unnecessary strike, but it is also already attracting bears to our community, and this is definitely not safe for the residents,” said Boyle, in the release.
He said CUPE members know what it takes to keep the landfill operating safely and want to resolve the strike.
McLaren said keeping the landfill site closed long-term is not an option. And he said arrangements will likely be made for residents to dispose of their garbage Saturday.
He one option is to ensure adequate security to allow council members to resume operating the site. He said members will be trained to use fire extinguishers and bear spray – as per the ministry order.
McLaren said the municipality can also rent a large bin to be placed in a central location that can later be taken to the landfill.
The municipality’s 16 workers have been off the job since Aug. 1, affecting services such as road maintenance, tax payments, building permits, inspections, planning services and general inquiries. CUPE says key issues are the threat of contracting out and a list of concessions demanded from the municipality including attacks on seniority, training, employment security, scheduling, vacations, sick leave and benefits. McLaren has said there are some 40 outstanding issues and the municipality is seeking changes to the existing collective agreement, including reducing the number of bankable sick days to which employees are entitled, increasing the length of service required for additional vacation entitlement and extending the probationary period for new hires.
He has also acknowledged the municipality has proposed language that would allow it to contract hire. But McLaren has said there is no intention of contracting out core services.