|TRADE UNION ISSUES IN CANADA
WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY
An important issue for workers and their trade unions is health and safety in the workplace. Health includes freedom from physical injury but psychological health. Psychological health requires not only absence of psychological injury, stress, fear etc. but a state of, physical, psychological and spiritual well being. It was believed by many that post-industrial society would develop technology and economic abundance that would enable workplaces to meet the health needs of workers. This has not occurred.
Physical injuries can have many causes, including exposure to heat, cold, radiation, chemicals, dust, smoke, noise, corrosive or poisonous liquids and gases etc. Injuries are caused by lifting, falling, contact with moving parts of machinery, falling objects, explosions, vehicles etc. Ergonomic factors create repetitive strain injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Physical injuries, and even death, can be sustained by violence intentionally inflicted by co-workers, managers, clients, customers, patients, and strangers.
Psychological injuries can be caused at work by sexual, racial and other harassment, bullying, threats of dismissal or reduction of hours of work, job insecurity due to intensification of work by management. Managers themselves can be subject to intensification of work and the related adverse physical and psychological effects.
A sense of meaningless and boredom in work can be a stressor along with lack of interaction wit others as e-mails and other computer communications replace work that used to involve inter-personal contact. Durkheim described the phenomenon of anomie as an outcome of industrialization, Marx referred to alienation, while Weber talked of cultural disenchantment. While these are not precisely synonymous, each refers to life lacking meaning or purpose; (see the glossary of terms at the end of Godard’s text as well as Chapter 2). Note that Durkheim saw anomie as a temporary phase caused by industrialization. Weber saw bureaucracy as the primary cause of cultural disenchantment and the price paid for the efficiencies of bureaucracy. The cure would seem to be less bureaucratic organizations, and greater empowerment of workers. Marx held that the internal contradictions of capitalism were an obstacle to avoiding alienation and that a radical restructuring and ideology of work – including ownership by workers was essential for healthy workplaces.
THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT
Good workplaces active participation and democratic control of work process. Bad workplaces are authoritarian and alienating.
Forces shaping Canadian workplaces
Wages working conditions depend on the labour market power of parties and government involvement in setting and enforcing minimum standards.
1980s and 90s High unemployment and under-employment.
Movement of production to low labour cost areas across the globe.
Retreat from state intervention
Restructuring and intensification of work to promote productivity and less emphasis on “good jobs”.
Casualisation of peripheral work: e.g. Walmart with no full time hours: no long term benefits; or universities and colleges hiring sessional instructors on short term contracts with no benefits beyond salaries, which are less than those of regular faculty.
Downsizing, contracting out of non-core functions, increased overtime and part time work.
Productivity boosted by capital equipment. Elimination of lower level supervisors.
While innovative work practices are frequently reported in academic journals and the popular press, their overall incidence is low. Self-directed work groups and flexible job design are the exception rather than the rule. Only around 10% are self-directed by employees. Around 32% of Canadian workplaces have flexible job design but frequently these apply only to some employees in the organization.
Studies show possibility of using technology for more interesting work but often work conditions deteriorate with the onset of new technology. An example is auto assembly plants but Heather Menzies identifies other examples in her work “Whose Brave New World? The Information Highway and the New Economy”. See also:
“Globalization and the Decline of Social Reform” Gary Teeple;
“Work Industry and Canadian Society” Harvey Krahn and Graham Lowe.
Core jobs are full time but many contracted out are precarious, for flexibility.
Peripheral work provides limited access to training, collective bargaining. One third of total market Routinized, boring, precarious. Students, recent immigrants, women, less educated.
Reduction in manufacturing jobs. In high tax countries jobs are social service work like day care, elder care, schools etc. Canada is a low tax country with social services delivered privately.
Canada minimal minimum wages and standards. European workers have collective agreements. Not a barrier to high productivity.
Women are close to 50% of the workforce. Two income families are the norm. Double burden on women.
Higher education qualifications produces higher expectations for workers but often they remain in peripheral jobs. While the economy recovered in the latter 1990s, little public policy has been enacted to deal with workers’ needs.
JOB QUALITY DIMENSIONS
Unemployment psychologically bad. Stress and low income affect health.
7% unemployment seems low but statistics count those employed with just a few hours a day or week.
Only 2 thirds of those employed are in standard jobs full time.
Long term unemployment low in Canada 17% of unemployed were for over 6 months. But tend to move among low paid jobs
Nearly 800,000 recorded injuries. Manufacturing – 20% of employment 40% of injuries.
See heavy work firefighters.
Stress in jobs Not recognized by most workers’ compensation boards.
February 28, is the internationally-recognized Repetitive Strain Injury Awareness Day. On this occasion, the Canadian Labour Congress urges the federal government to follow through with promised new regulations to prevent the scourge of workplace injuries known as RSIs (repetitive strain injuries).
One of every ten Canadian adults (more than two million people) reported RSIs serious enough to limit their normal activities, according to a Statistics Canada survey from 2000/2001. The same study found most of these injuries were caused by work-related activity. “Canadian workers are suffering from repetitive strain injuries in epidemic proportions,” says Marie Clarke Walker, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress. “RSIs impact workers, their families and the economy. We cannot ignore such a debilitating yet preventable workplace hazard any longer,” she says.
RSI describes a range of injuries that affect the muscles, nerves and tendons. Common examples include tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Symptoms include aches, pains, tingling, swelling, loss of joint movement and strength in affected parts of the body. Unchecked, these symptoms can lead to crippling disorders that make work or even normal life impossible.
THE ECONOMIC COSTS
Aside from the emotional strain for affected workers and the families who see them suffer, the economic costs of these injuries are also staggering. Estimated at $26 billion each year, much of this is paid for by taxpayers in the form of health care and income assistance and not by employers who operate unsafe workplaces.
The Canadian Labour Congress, which represents over three million workers across the country, received the commitment from the previous federal government that changes to the current federal Hazard Prevention Regulations would be introduced.
According to Clarke Walker, a working group with representatives from labour, federal employers, and the Federal Department of Labour spent almost two years working out a plan for new regulations which, if implemented, would mark a major leap forward in the prevention of workplace repetitive strain injury (RSI).
“British Columbia and Saskatchewan already have regulations. Keeping the promise to bring in new rules at the federal level will encourage other provincial and territorial governments to act so people no longer have to work and live with preventable pain and suffering,” says Clarke Walker.
The Canadian Labour Congress, the national voice of the labour movement, represents 3 million Canadian workers. The CLC brings together Canada's national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 137 district labour councils. Web site: www.canadianlabour.ca . Contact Jeff Atkinson,
613-526-7425 and 613-863-1413; firstname.lastname@example.org