While the federal government’s Treasury Board is focusing on sick leave in the current round of bargaining in the PSAC, our union is putting health first. The healthier and safer the workplace, the fewer sick days claimed. And the more family supports that are in place, the fewer family-related absences. Make sense?
The Harper government showed its contempt for the whole idea of workplace health and safety by making it more difficult to refuse dangerous work a year or so ago. But we’re taking a positive approach , particularly in the area of psychological health. We have to. Mental illness among Canadian workers is at epic levels. And federal public workers have one of the highest rates of mental illness in Canada.
It’s hardly surprising that so many of our members are suffering from paralyzing anxiety and depression. Cuts landing everywhere, massive workload increases, discrimination, disrespect, workplace bullying and harassment (one in five federal public workers report being harassed at work, nearly two-thirds of them by their managers)—the causes are many. How can we fix the problems?
Well, we could start with a systematic and sympathetic approach to mental ill-health among federal public workers. For some reason, the Harper government has refused so far to deal with this serious matter, even failing to implement its own Mental Health Commission of Canada’s proposed national standards for a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. (Those standards can be downloaded here.)
The PSAC wants to work with Treasury Board to find solutions, and so we’ve tabled a proposal for a National Joint Task Force to tackle mental health. At the core of this work would be an endorsement of the Mental Health Commission’s standards. We are also proposing working closely with policy and workplace health and safety committees as we proceed with our project.
As an essential part of this wellness initiative, the PSAC wants a genuine partnership, one where we have equal voice, where participation is mandatory on both sides, and where the employer promptly shares all relevant information.
Our proposals also include a number of other measures to improve workplace conditions: enhancing members’ right to refuse dangerous work; specific measures to reduce stress for front-line workers and shift workers; improved collective agreement language on workplace harassment and discrimination; strong maternal health provisions; and fairness for injured workers.
One proven stressor in the workplace is managing a work/life balance, and a key element of that is affordable, accessible childcare. While the government has been closing workplace child care centres, allegedly to save money, that’s a false economy. Lack of childcare facilities inevitably causes stress and absences from the workplace. Once again, we are looking for a win-win approach, proposing a joint National Child Care Committee to address this need in a constructive and practical fashion.
I’m proud of these initiatives, and of the commitment of our bargaining teams to push them hard at the table. We have heard much from Treasury Board president Tony Clement over the past several months, bemoaning absenteeism. Let’s see how serious he really is about the improved attendance and productivity that safe and healthy workplaces encourage. The ball is in your court, Mr. Clement, and we’re looking forward to your positive response.