Ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence should never be part of the job

The Pilot - - Editorial - Has­san Yus­suff is the pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Labour Congress. Find him on Twit­ter @Has­san_Yus­suff

This April 28, fam­i­lies of work­ers who have been killed or in­jured on the job com­mem­o­rated their loved ones on the an­nual Day of Mourn­ing; and many, once again, joined Canada’s unions in call­ing for bet­ter pro­tec­tions for the liv­ing.

In the age of #metoo and #time­sup, this im­por­tant tra­di­tion takes on an added di­men­sion, pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity to more widely ad­dress vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment in the work­place.

For decades, the fo­cus of this solemn day has un­der­stand­ably been on work­place ac­ci­dents and ex­po­sure to dan­ger­ous ma­te­ri­als like as­bestos. Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Work­ers’ Com­pen­sa­tion Boards of Canada, there were 905 re­ported work­place deaths in 2016, and over 241, 508 claims ac­cepted for lost time due to a work-re­lated in­jury or dis­ease.

Many tragic sto­ries of loss and hurt will be high­lighted on the Day of Mourn­ing, in­clud­ing ones like those cur­rently fea­tured by On­tario’s Work­place Safety and In­surance Board. There is the pi­lot whose plane crashed dur­ing a rou­tine flight, the young woman who fell off a scaf­fold to her death, and the fa­ther who suc­cumbed to can­cer af­ter a tiny piece of as­bestos en­tered his body.

Far too many work­ers have per­ished on the job.

One way we hon­our their me­mories is to do all we can to make sure no one else’s fam­ily has to say good­bye pre­ma­turely, or strug­gle to care for their loved one. It also means we break the si­lence on vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment in the work­place to bet­ter un­der­stand and pre­vent the full range of harm­ful be­hav­iours that can oc­cur. With­out these crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions, em­ploy­ers and govern­ments will have lit­tle in­cen­tive to act.

Take the heart­break­ing case of the late Eric Don­a­van of Hazel­brook, Prince Ed­ward Is­land. The 47-year-old man had worked for over 17 years with a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. By all ac­counts, he loved his work un­til a su­per­vi­sor be­gan to se­verely bully and ha­rass him. He be­came in­creas­ingly anx­ious and stressed, even­tu­ally dy­ing from a car­diac ar­rest.

Af­ter a three-year bat­tle, the Work­ers Com­pen­sa­tion Board of Prince Ed­ward Is­land ac­cepted the ar­gu­ments of Dono­van’s wife and doc­tor and awarded the fam­ily com­pen­sa­tion. His case rep­re­sents one of the rare glimpses into un­der­stand­ing the toll that work­place bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment can have.

“It’s as­ton­ish­ing how many peo­ple are say­ing that they have been in work­places where there has been con­sis­tent, healththreat­en­ing and health-in­ju­ri­ous bul­ly­ing and where noth­ing has been done by su­per­vi­sors,” said the fam­ily’s lawyer James W. Mac­nutt.

Ear­lier this year, a Saskatchewan fam­ily sim­i­larly re­ceived com­pen­sa­tion af­ter ar­gu­ing that work­place bul­ly­ing led to their loved one’s sui­cide.

The sit­u­a­tion is acute for women work­ers, many of whom are work­ing in care­giv­ing pro­fes­sions in­clud­ing nurses, per­sonal sup­port work­ers, and teach­ers.

Women work­ers are too of­ten the target of work­place vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment, in­clud­ing sex­ual and phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment or vi­o­lence. An­other risk is that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence may also fol­low women to work. For some, the out­come can be fa­tal.

This Day of Mourn­ing, Canada’s unions urged work­ers to seek sup­port if they are the vic­tims of vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment.

This im­pacts ev­ery sec­tor. For in­stance, a 2017 Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ployee Sur­vey found that 18 per cent of pub­lic ser­vants re­ported be­ing ha­rassed at work in the pre­ced­ing two years. For front-line work­ers in­clud­ing bus drivers, paramedics, flight at­ten­dants, call cen­tre work­ers and many oth­ers — par­tic­u­larly those who work alone — the dan­gers are sig­nif­i­cant.

Work­ing with Canada’s unions and em­ploy­ers, the fed­eral govern­ment has de­vel­oped strong reg­u­la­tions on work­place vi­o­lence and fed­eral Bill C-65 prom­ises to fi­nally ad­dress sex­ual ha­rass­ment as a work­place hazard.

How­ever, work­ers are also call­ing for new mea­sures: whistle­blower pro­tec­tion, to pro­tect com­plainants from reprisal; the hir­ing of prop­erly trained fed­eral health and safety of­fi­cers in ap­pro­pri­ate num­bers; and the recog­ni­tion of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence as a work­place hazard, as On­tario ex­plic­itly wrote into leg­is­la­tion fol­low­ing the work­place mur­ders of Lori Dupont and Theresa Vince.

It’s time to col­lec­tively re­new our com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing that all work­ers are safe and sup­ported at work.

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