It sounds great; work when you want & take time off when you need it – plenty of flexibility and the freedom to make work fit your life. It’s a great arrangement for some, but working as an Auxilliary-On-Call or AOC for the Yukon Government can be tough and unpredictable.
Over 700 men and women work in uncertain positions across all departments of YG. Their schedules and lives are governed by the telephone; they often don’t know if they’ll be on duty from one day to the next. With no way to predict work schedules, family life and sleep patterns are often disrupted. Many AOC’s work in justice and health care and the shifts can come at odds with a regular work rotation. It’s not uncommon to finish a night shift, sleep a few hours and be called in for a day shift the next morning, followed by a few hours’ sleep then another night shift.
When AOC’s are posted into longer term positions, they work alongside permanent YG employees, but don’t enjoy the benefits or advantages of regular employment. There is no sick leave for AOC’s, and vacation pay is added to each paycheque. That means the extra pay is usually absorbed into the costs of living, and time off work means living without a paycheque.
Medical and Dental coverage is very different; unlike regular employees, AOC’s are paid a flat sum twice a year based on hours worked as a contribution toward their extended health care costs. That means that while a regular employee can submit receipts for orthodontia, physio or glasses and receive reimbursement, an AOC must absorb those costs; the twice yearly payment is not a reimbursement. There’s a big difference at the pharmacy counter as well; the cost of prescriptions isn’t covered as it is for other YG employees.
For many AOC’s there’s the added challenge of always being the new kid on the block, learning the rhythm of new colleagues and new team dynamics each time you go to work.
AOC’s fill an important role in government workplaces, providing on-call relief when employees call in sick or must take unplanned leave. Though terms should be hired when there are longer leaves planned, AOC’s are more and more frequently being called on to backfill positions of many months’ duration. While the work and regular pay is welcomed, the inequities between AOC and regular employee benefits becomes more noticeable in these longer posts.
YEU is committed to making sure Auxiliary workers aren’t being misused in positions that should be filled by regular or term employees. LOU “S” in the new CA ensures the employer and union will meet every 6 months to monitor YG’s use of AOC’s. Where possible we want to encourage YG to hire more regular employees to fill the gaps AOC’s now fill.
My name is Steve Geick and I am the President of Yukon Employees’ Union. We are a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in Whitehorse Yukon, representing approximately 5000 members across the Yukon Territory of Canada.
In March I traveled to Guatemala with a group of Canadian volunteers to learn about the realities of life and the work of several social justice organizations supported by the PSAC. We began in Guatemala City but spent most of our time visiting the highlands in the Lake Atitlán region.
We had to cancel a trip to the village of Coban. We had planned to work on roof repairs at a school named for the father of a member of our Canadian team. Roberto Miranda was a trade unionist who believed in the power of solidarity. He worked to organize teachers with his brothers who lost their lives for their efforts.
A young father, he fled Guatemala in the 1980’s after his life was repeatedly threatened. He moved his family to Canada, but continued the work he began in his home land. For many Guatemalans, he is a hero.
In the few days before our scheduled visit, life in Coban was threatened by armed militia. As in many Guatemalan villages, the campesinos are squatters on state land. The purchase of land is very difficult and expensive, and most privately owned land is held by the very wealthy. A powerful plantation owner decided he needed the land on which the village stood so a private guard of armed militia came to town and ordered the villagers out. When they refused to go, the private army returned with more than 30 men bearing automatic weapons. The local police force did little to interfere, and 126 villagers were locked in the village church and told the church would be set on fire.
Thankfully the villagers escaped into the jungle. A handful of these escapees made it to Guatemala City, assisted by members of the CCDA and Break the Silence, to meet with the United Nations and high ranking Justice officials. In the days since our return, the militia has left Coban and the villagers have slowly begun to return from their hiding places in the jungle.
It’s against this backdrop that the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA) has grown to over 360,000 members. Founded in 1982, the organization works to defend the rights of workers on large coffee, sugar and cotton plantations. They also work to recover lands taken from the Mayan communities over the past centuries. In many ways, the efforts of the CCDA mirror those of Canadian First Nations activists, and the parallels between treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada and Guatemala are stark and tragic.
When it formed, the organization was considered a threat to the government and many of its founders were “disappeared”, exiled or assassinated. CCDA was granted legal status in 2000, and now supports economic initiatives and social infrastructure development throughout the region.
The main fundraising component of the CCDA is its Café Justicia project. When Guatemala’s civil war ended in 1996, the CCDA began using funds from peace accords to obtain land for its members. Cooperatives of farmers in the highlands now produce over 60,000 pounds of organic coffee, the best of which are purchased by the CCDA for export as Café Justicia, a Fair-Trade Plus brand. Through the funds raised by their coffee, the CCDA is able to assist villages that have not yet achieved self-sufficiency, building schools, clinics and community centres.
Our party of 12 included three Yukoners, one Manitoban, a Nova Scotian and a handful of activists from Ontario. Our trips were funded either through our own fundraising efforts or by the organizations we represented. While in Guatemala, we knew we were going to work hard and live rough. No fancy hotels or restaurants for us.
The itinerary was packed with opportunities to learn about the real history of Guatemala. We saw the strength of its indigenous people and their pressure for social justice. We also saw the legacy of violence and grief from 30 years of civil war. We met with activists, teachers and their students, farmers and villagers. We helped build two community centres, repaired a school roof and assisted at a community medical clinic in Quixaya.
It’s not enough to say that this trip changed me. The determination of the Campesinos and the achievements they have made to improve the lives of their members amaze me.
The Hijos or youth activists whose family members were “disappeared” during and after the civil war work with steely determination to ensure their loved ones are never forgotten. Their efforts to hold police and the paramilitary to account while striving to defend marginalized youth from police violence are staggering in their audacity and strength.
I’m awed by women who support their communities through artisan and agricultural cooperatives, accessing micro-loans for projects to build capacity and self-reliance.
Most of the people I met in Guatemala were poor subsistence farmers and villagers. In their poverty there was strength, determination and the quiet confidence that solidarity can provide. No-one who belongs to an organization of 360,000 members is alone.
There’s no question who holds the power in the hills of Guatemala. It’s not the peasants, or Campesinos. It’s not the villagers, teachers or farmers, or even the doctors and nurses trying to provide medical care to people not even registered with their government. It’s the plantation owners, the wealthy. It’s the armed militia backed by silent money and invisible alliances between land owners and the state, between foreign corporations and corrupt leaders. This is changing, however. Slowly but surely the power is beginning to be more evenly distributed.
Through pure force of will and ingenuity, the CCDA’s committed activists and citizens work for one another, with the support of international partners like the PSAC. I am very proud to have been amongst this year’s contingent of observers. We will continue to honor the work they do, and we will continue to bear witness to the struggles they face.
To learn more about the CCDA, please visit their site
You can purchase Café Justicia in Whitehorse through the PSAC Regional Office and committees; call 667-2331. A small selection of the coffee will be available for purchase at the YEU booth at the Yukon Trade Show May 2-4 2014.
- Bargaining Unit: A group of employees with a clear and identifiable community who are represented by a single union, whether or not all members have signed union cards.
- Collective Agreement: A legally binding contract arrived at through negotiation covering wages, hours, and terms & condition of employment, rights of employees and processes for resolving disputes and issues during the contract’s term. If you are a YEU member, you can review your Collective Agreement here.
- Collective Bargaining: A process where the Union and Employer make offers and counter offers regarding their employment relationship. The purpose is to create a mutually acceptable agreement and to execute a written contract.
- Grievance: A complaint filed by an employee in connection with their job, pay or other aspects of their employment. A grievance may result from a violation of the Collective Agreement. Grievance Procedures as set out in the contract are followed, usually involving meetings between the employee (grievor) & management with union representation. A Shop Steward will meet with the grievor to discuss the problem and may attempt to reach a negotiated resolution prior to filing a grievance.
- Rand: an unsigned member of a bargaining unit, accessing benefits of the Collective Agreement.
- The Rand Formula ensures the payment of trade union dues is mandatory regardless of the worker’s union status. The Supreme Court of Canada introduced this formula in 1946 to ensure that no employee opts out of the union simply to avoid dues while reaping the benefits of collective bargaining, such as higher wages. Learn more about Justice Rand’s decision, and the creation of the Rand Formula.
- Shop Steward: A Shop Steward, or Union Representative is a member of a bargaining unit elected by co-workers to act as a workplace liaison with the Union. A Shop Steward is trained to assist members at grievance meetings, attending to support the member. If you are interested in becoming a Steward, please contact your Chief Shop Steward or the YEU office for information.