Random drug testing for seafarers in Canada

Random drug testing, picture from the interwebs

Browsing the Canada Merchant Service Guild (the Guild) website the other day, I ran across a very interesting paper, it was an arbitration decision, ruling in favour of the Guild and against west-coast tug and barge operator, Seaspan, over it’s random drug testing policies.

I completely despise these “CYA”, big brothers, top down attitudes, which these drug policy initiatives seem to be born from. Controlling and punitive motives are probably the real reason behind these policies, most likely not safety. Companies have so much power these days that they seem to forget that human rights exist.

Canada takes a fundamentally different aspect to drug testing compared to the USA, and especially US oil companies, where testing policies generally come from. There are many court rulings dealing with this, but simple straight forward answers for the common person like me, are hard to find. So I was really pleased to read the ruling on this arbitration, as it laid out the case and the supporting arguments, in a fashion that was fairly straight forward.

It is a lengthy, legal document, and there is some tedious bits in there, but if you are interested in what your rights are in the workplace, especially for “safety sensitive” position most seagoing personnel find themselves in, and are faced with a company culture of dubious character, utilizing drug testing for various reason, maybe even for “safety”, then, I recommend reading this document.

In brief, Seaspan had a contract to move product for Shell. Since the terminal, and Shell, was operating under the OCIMF best practices, a vetting based on these practices found that Seaspan’s wasn’t randomly testing its tug personnel. Seaspan, scared of losing the client, tried different tactics to force crew to undergo “medical testing”, despite knowing doing so in Canada, is a clear violation of charter rights; one senior captain refused and was essentially railroaded.

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This arbitration proceeding was initiated by the Guild in support of the captain, which they won. The decision is laid out in this document, and highlights numerous court cases concerning worker’s rights and obligation. I found it refreshing to read that “commercial interests do not trump an individual’s rights”, in today’s workplace, this seems to be radical thought.

You can find the arbitration decision here.

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