NEWS
08/27/2015 15:01 EDT | Updated 08/27/2016 01:12 EDT

Unions take Pearson airport to task over safety after recent accident

An accident at Toronto's Pearson International Airport last week has several unions sounding the alarm over safety at the country's busiest air hub.

On Aug. 20, at approximately 5:30 a.m. ET, a 20-year-old Swissport employee was driving to Terminal 1 when he got involved in an accident with a fuel truck during a 16-hour shift, Teamsters Local 419 vice-president Harjinder Badial told CBC News. He added the rain and the darkness may have contributed to the collision.

Badial said the ramp worker, is one of about 40,000 people employed at Pearson, is in the critical care ward at Sunnybrook hospital and is expected to remain there "for a very long time."

Teamsters Local 419, which represents several workers at Pearson — including ground staff and convenience store employees — is involved in the investigation into the accident. Badial couldn't offer more details on the incident.

'Wake-up call' for GTAA

But he said he hopes it provides a "wake-up call" for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) to invest more in security protocols at the airport.

Badial said low wages and long hours are major concerns for the union.

"We're dealing with so many airlines ... with the lives of passengers. We hope that nothing like this happens again."

Sean Smith of the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) shares Badial's concerns.

"Low wages, inconsistent hours and the push to work harder are all creating unsafe working conditions at the airport," Smith told CBC News. "This airport is fuelled by caffeine and overtime."

Smith also claims "the turnover rate is huge so companies aren't investing time in training employees properly."

TAWC has been "pushing the GTAA hard on these issues" and Smith said the operator of the airport has "refused to implement a joint safety council that includes representatives of all employees at Pearson" so everyone is on the same page regarding safety issues.

"[GTAA] doesn't want to take on that role," he said.

Safety committees at Pearson

The GTAA shot down Smith's accusations.

"We have several joint safety committees in place such as the Toronto Pearson Safety Committee, the Airside Safety Committee and the Emergency Management Committee," GTAA spokeswoman Shabeen Hanifa told CBC News.

Hanifa said safety at Toronto Pearson is not the responsibility of the GTAA, alone.

"The approximately 40,000 employees who work at the airport are responsible for the safety of each person who works, uses or visits Toronto Pearson," she said.

She said any accident that happens at the airport "is felt across the entire airport community. That's why our airport safety program is so important."

On Monday, the first-ever Canadian Airports Safety Week was launched at 24 airports across Canada. The initiative, championed by the GTAA, will see participating airport authorities emphasizing various safety themes ranging from worker safety, security, airside vehicle operations and environmental concerns.