PRECARIOUS!

precarious

Precarious. The word makes me think of danger, uncertainty and risk. The definition is “held through the favour of another, obtained by asking or praying and dependent on the will of another”.

When you put the word “workforce” behind precarious it takes on a whole new meaning. If it sounds horrible, that’s because it is. Lots of precarious work is mis-labelled as offering “flexible-hours” or is classified as temporary, contract or seasonal. This precarity is accepted as the price of an entry level job, or as a way for older workers to remain employed to supplement their CPP or pension, if they’re lucky enough to have one. Looking around, we see the growth of the “gig economy”. Many young workers know they’re not likely find a single job that will sustain and support them – they’ll have to juggle multiple “side-gigs” to pay the bills.

Across Canada, companies and governments are staffing permanent positions with contract and temporary workers. These vulnerable workers do the same work as permanent employees – often working right alongside the permanent staffers, but they are denied the rights of full employment. These workers are subject to unreliable income, no job security, and lower wages. Thanks to the nature of their employment, they’re often denied the right to join a union. Even when they have the right to unionize, many are afraid – they know full well how easily they can be replaced.

Women, youth, minorities and migrant workers are much more likely to fill these kinds of jobs- at least that has been true in years past. The demographics are changing though. Permanent employment across many sectors has shifted to precarious jobs through outsourcing, use of employment agencies, and the inappropriate classification of workers as “short-term” or “independent contractors.”

Does this type of exploitation exist in the Yukon? Absolutely! Over the last few years Yukon Employees’ Union has successfully unionized a number of workplaces that follow this staffing model. Many are organizations providing social services to vulnerable community members. These are often non-profit organizations, overseen by volunteer boards of directors. Reliant on government funding or grants, there is rarely much room to maneuver in their staffing budgets, so some rely on “creative employment standards” to meet their staffing needs …precarious employment resulting in high staff turn-over rates. Of course these outcomes can also result in the organization’s diminished ability to meet client needs.
People who choose to work in care and service roles are some of the most compassionate and empathetic people I have met, hard-wired to put the needs of those they serve before their own needs. It’s a sad truth that most are also struggling to make ends meet, working more than full time hours, working more than one job, with few benefits and no job security.

While these non-profit sector bargaining units are small, there are now roughly 300 Yukoners that can count on a living wage, benefits and perhaps even some form of retirement package. This means they can do the work they love without struggling with the precarity of so many similar jobs.

Our goal as a union is to remind employers of their contractual obligations to their workforce. It’s not acceptable to manipulate the rules of engagement to keep workers from accessing the full benefits of their labours. When a seasonal employee is re-hired year after year, but laid off for one day each year so the employer can sidestep the duty to provide a full employment package, we’re going to step up and challenge that. We don’t believe in a two-tiered workforce, with permanent and precarious temporary workers doing the same job while receiving wildly different levels of respect and payment.

We have had some success with our larger Yukon employers by monitoring the use of on call, seasonal and casual employees. We will continue the pressure to ensure anyone working full time hours is treated equitably, with a proper rate of pay, benefits and workplaces that are safe both physically and mentally. To date YEU has been able to facilitate those changes for about 50 Yukon workers.

What difference does the permanent job make? Same job, same or similar rate of pay, with a benefit plan, the ability to contribute to a pension, and stability! Think of the impact on a worker’s life; a permanent job (not a precarious, seasonal job or never-ending series of temporary contracts) can mean the difference between being accepted or denied for a mortgage. Only the employer benefits from staffing permanent positions with contract, seasonal and temporary workers. Our communities suffer, workers suffer, and the inequities between co-workers creates an unjust working environment.

50 workers now in permanent jobs; 300 Yukoners working in service roles who are now able to count on a living wage and union representation – those are no small achievements. We’re not done, but that’s okay. We’re going to keep at it – stay tuned!

Steve Geick, President

Yukon Employees’ Union

 

Myths & Inaccuracies: An Open Letter to RYTS Manager Mike Healey

Steve Geick June 2016Mr. Healey:

Last Friday you held a press conference as part of your media blitz in response to YEU’s June 8 Risk at RYTS media release and blog post.  You expressed confusion and told the press that my worry for the safety of staff & residents is based on nothing more than “myths & inaccuracies”.

Myth:  noun| Definition: a person or thing existing only in the imagination; a popular belief that is not true.

Inaccuracy: noun| Definition: a statement that is not correct: an error or mistake

You told the press you don’t know where I got my data, and you don’t understand why I am raising the issue at this particular time when your staffing numbers are so high – you have over 120 full time staff members for the 7 Whitehorse RYTS homes, with an additional 46 AOC workers.  That’s both true and untrue.  Of the 46 AOC staff on your roster, only 23 of them have been deployed in the first months of the quarter.   It is INACCURATE to suggest that the numbers on your roster reflects the number of staff in any RYTS home on any given shift.

The data you questioned was provided to me by the Public Service Commission (your employer), when I met with them over the weeks prior to our news release.  I had many discussions with the Director and new Acting Director of Labour Relations at the PSC, both before and after they met with you to discuss the union’s concerns. It was INACCURATE to tell CBC you knew nothing of our concerns.

We became aware of the issues at RYTS over several months, as staff approached the union with grave concerns. Feeling helpless, threatened, & anxious for the well-being of their charges, many feel the needs of everyone involved are being ignored by management. Worse, they feel management has made the callous decision to value economy over safety.

Recently, more than 20 employees came to YEU for an emergency meeting; many others submitted concerns by email and phone. Most wish to remain anonymous for fear of putting their jobs or their colleagues at risk.  We have many stories from workers working alone in high risk situations with intoxicated and violent youth. Thankfully, few compensable injuries have occurred in the last year.

“Our staff and our youth are not put in unsafe situations at any time”. That’s a quote from your June 13th interview with CBC’s Sandi Coleman.

RYTS workers have catalogued a great many instances proving the exact opposite of that statement is true. I’m not sure whether to categorize your assertion as MYTH or INACCURACY, but it isn’t FACT. I’d call that statement laughable, but I’ll let you decide what you want to call it.

While your staffing stats show 46 AOC workers, you know as well as I do that it’s the House Log Books that tell the story of how frequently the homes are single-staffed. Sometimes the single-staffing is the result of an absence by an employee. If a worker calls in sick, no effort is made to fill the gap by calling in another worker. Workers are frequently required to move from one home to another mid-shift, sometimes more than once, creating instability and inconsistency for the children.

 “One night I had started a shift with two youth when I was pulled from the house to a different one in need. I had to immediately stop a game with the kids and leave. The youth left behind did not understand and were visibly upset. These are little forms of re-traumatization for youth with a history of abandonment/attachment issues.”

Workers are often scheduled to move from house to house mid-shift. This puts workers at a huge disadvantage. As one worker says, “you do not know what has gone down earlier in the day, and arrive at a house late at night where there is an intoxicated and/or violent youth with no understanding of what you are walking into”.

Mr. Healey, you mention process & procedure, including risk assessments. You say that supervisors do assessments on every scheduling situation using a comprehensive Hazard Analysis – ongoing, daily situational risk assessment.  While that may be the goal, we’d like to point out the following:

  1. Few of the staff we spoke to were even aware of these ongoing risk assessments; it seems reasonable that the staff would be consulted to assess risk, and advised of risk levels.
  2. These “daily assessments of scheduling situations” take place in the abstract. When on-the-ground realities change (a worker calls in sick, risk levels change in the home) there is no reassessment or recalibration done; additional workers are not reliably called in to keep staffing at intended levels.
  3. Only 2 of the 7 active supervisors will come in to assist when they are on call. The supervisors rotate nights on-call a week at a time. That means only 2 weeks in each 7 can staff rely on the certain availability of the on-call supervisor.
  4. If an urgent situation arises, supervisors advise calling another house for support, or calling RCMP if things get out of hand, refusing to authorize AOC hours.

Suggesting unsupported workers leave another house under-staffed or call the RCMP is an abandonment of responsibility. RYTS staff do everything possible to avoid calling the police. They know the RYTS home is often the child’s last chance before youth detention.

Mr. Healey, when you and I exchanged emails a couple of weeks ago, I asked for 6 months of minutes for the joint Health & Safety Committee meetings. These meetings are meant to be held with management and staff representatives.  Based on the minutes sent to me by your assistant, only 4 Health & Safety Committee meetings have been held in the last 9 months. That does not illustrate a meaningful commitment to safety in the workplace. I bring it up because you mentioned on air that these meetings are an important part of your safety process. Myth?

Rather than consider how to ensure staff and the children in their care feel supported, you have “invited” them all to attend meetings with yourself and ADM Brenda-Lee Doyle.

Your words: “The intent of these upcoming meetings is to listen to your concerns and ensure you have an understanding of the processes and factors that pertain to lower staffing levels. Although this is never ideal, I want to assure you that during times when the human resources are difficult to balance, your health and safety is our priority.” 

I translate that as “We will listen to your concerns then make sure you understand why they don’t matter. Sucks but hey, we’re here for you.”   By your own admission and in direct conflict with your public statements, your email recognizes that RYTS homes currently face lower staffing levels, and you are concerned for their safety.

So please clarify, Mr. Healey; were your comments MYTHS or INACCURACIES?  I’ll let you decide.

Steve Geick, President

Yukon Employees’ Union

Auxiliary on Call; a Tough Gig

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.