Tuesday, July 7, 2015

One in five civil servants bullied by bosses

Awhile back, a survey of the federal public service found one in five Canadian civil servants reported workplace harassment in the previous two years, most often from supervisors and co-workers.
The most common types reported were offensive remarks, unfair treatment and being excluded or ignored. Sexual harassment, whether a comment or gesture, was reported by nine per cent of those who felt harassed, and two per cent said they faced “physical violence.
Not surprisingly, most victims did nothing.
About 25 per cent of those who felt harassed took no action at all. About seven per cent filed a grievance or formal complaint. The main reasons cited by those who didn’t were fear of reprisal; they didn’t think it would make a difference; concerns about the complaint process; and thinking the incident wasn’t serious enough.
These Canadian numbers are roughly the same as those found in Australia.

One of the more interesting studies of workplace bullying in "Workplace bullying and the employment relationship: Exploring questions of prevention, control and context". This analytical lens reveals that bullying may well be an effective strategy for turning the capacity to work into actual work and is therefore an endemic feature of employment in capitalist economies.

This approach is profoundly different from the usual psychological approaches to studying bullying by noting the structural factors that incentivize and support bullying. And it may explain the persistence of workplace bullying: it is a management strategy.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Tunes: The Idiot

This week’s installment of labour themes in popular culture is Stan Roger’s The Idiot. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of folk music, but Roger’s is something of troubadour of the common Canadian (wo)man. This song examines the inter-provincial migration that has characterized the working lives of many Canadians.

Rogers writes from the perspective of a migrant who has come west to take a job in the oil patch but whose heart remains in the east. Rogers taps into notions of pride, with the worker moving rather than accepting unemployment insurance benefits. While questioning this decision, Rogers notes the pride the worker feels in earning is living (“There's self-respect and a steady cheque in this refinery”), which is a refreshing change from the usual “workers are malingers” narrative of corporate Canada.

Rogers also talks about the difficult working conditions (“But work I must so I eat this dust and breathe refinery”) and the difficult living conditions (“Oh, the streets aren't clean, and there's nothing green, and the hills are dirty brown”) and missing home (“Oh I miss the green and the woods and streams and I don't like cowboy clothes”). But, ultimately, there is self-respect to be found in working (“But the government Dole will rot your soul back there in your home town”).

I often take these night shift walks when the foreman's not around.
I turn my back on the cooling stacks and make for open ground.
Far out beyond the tank farm fence where the gas flare makes no sound,
I forget the stink and I always think back to that Eastern town.

I remember back six years ago, this Western life I chose.
And every day, the news would say some factory's going to close.
Well, I could have stayed to take the Dole, but I'm not one of those.
I take nothing free, and that makes me an idiot, I suppose.

So I bid farewell to the Eastern town I never more will see;
But work I must so I eat this dust and breathe refinery.
Oh I miss the green and the woods and streams and I don't like cowboy clothes;
But I like being free and that makes me an idiot I suppose.

So come all you fine young fellows who've been beaten to the ground.
This western life's no paaradise, but it's better than lying down.
Oh, the streets aren't clean, and there's nothing green, and the hills are dirty brown,
But the government Dole will rot your soul back there in your home town.

So bid farewell to the Eastern town you never more will see.
There's self-respect and a steady cheque in this refinery.
You will miss the green and the woods and streams and the dust will fill your nose.
But you'll be free, and just like me, an idiot, I suppose.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Poverty among injured workers

The journal Critical Public Health has released a new article out of Ontario entitled “Poverty status of worker compensation claimants with permanent impairments.” This article looked at injured workers with permanent impairments (about 6% of all WCB claimants) 52 months after the date of injury to assess their proximity to and depth of poverty.

The upshot is that injured workers has poverty rates between 17 and 26%, which is appreciably higher than the general population and approximately the same as poverty rates among working age adults with disabilities. The data does not allow the researchers to conclude that being inured causes poverty. But the data does show lower incomes and a higher rate of poverty after an injury (particularly for those workers with low incomes before the injury).

The discussion of return-to-work programming and the practice of reducing the compensation payments to those injured workers who have completed retraining (“deeming”) regardless of whether or not they have work is particularly interesting, as is the family effect of post-injury poverty.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Tunes: Assembly Line

This week’s installment of labour themes in popular culture is “Assembly Line” by Randy Montana. This was one of the song suggestions I crowd sourced from my facebook friends. 

One of my longer term research projects is a content analysis of songs about work and labour and this one sits squarely in the category I’m tentatively labeling “workin’ proud.” The interesting part of this song is that its simple lyrics provide a chronicle of blue-collar jobs from the perspective of a worker—identifying what is important and real to him or her.

Montana sings about tools (“Ratchet in my left and a flat head in my right’), the work process (“Just a hundred and thirty-two steps/Making machines out a steel and sweat”) and the working conditions (“Over and over again like a record that’s on repeat”). He also sings about workers’ place in the production process (“And I’m just one of a thousand parts”) and the repetition of this cycle, that stretches across workers’ lives (“Clocked out about 5 p.m./Wake up in the morning, do it all again”).

Punched in just about five
Ratchet in my left and a flat-head in my right
Hoping that I’ll hear about a raise by the end of the week
Just a hundred and thirty-two steps
Making machines out a steel and sweat
Over and over again like a record that’s on repeat


And it’s all manufactured time
When you’re on the assembly line
Building products made to sell
Moving on a conveyer belt
And it’s a job for a diligent heart 
And I’m just one of a thousand parts
You might think I’ve got it rough but I don’t mind
Working on the assembly line

All day in steel-toed boots
Vacation days that I’ll never use
There’s a rumor going ‘round
that’s got nothing to do with me
Charlie swears he’s gonna quit
Put his two weeks in and that’s it
He’s been talkin’ that way since the summer of ‘93



It ain’t a job for everyone but it’s mine
Working on the assembly line
On the assembly line
Clocked out about 5 p.m.
Wake up in the morning, do it all again

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Research: Bias in newspaper report of injury

Last week, the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health published an article that Jason Foster and I wrote entitled “If it bleeds, it leads: The construction of workplace injury in Canadian newspapers, 2009–2014”. This article uses quantitative content analysis to examine how newspapers report workplace injuries across Canada and compares those reports to official injury statistics.

The upshot is that newspapers dramatically over-report fatalities, injuries to men, injuries in the construction and mining/quarrying/oil industries, injuries stemming from contact with objects/equipment and fires/explosions, and acute physical injuries such as burns, fractures, intracranial injuries, and traumatic injuries. 

Basically, newspapers construct injuries as things that violently kill blue-collar men. This results in a profoundly misleading picture of occupational injuries in Canada. To the degree that Canadians use (consciously or otherwise) media representations of workplace injuries to inform their views of workplace injuries, the biases in newspaper articles may be skewing public perceptions. Misunderstanding the nature of workplace injuries then leads to inappropriate prescriptions for injury prevention.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Tunes: Working Man's PhD

This week’s installment of labour themes in popular culture is Aaron Tippin’s “Working Man’s PhD”. This song is part of the “workin’ proud” genre of labour songs, fitting in nicely with similar efforts from the likes of Alabama. The basic message is that hard, physical work is laudable. There is also a subtle lyrical slam at those who don’t perform such jobs:
As a matter of fact I'd like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin' their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man's Ph.D.
What I most struck by was the gendered nature of the video. Obviously you can’t show the entire spectrum of work in one video. (As an aside, the 2001 book Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs offers this kind of broad snapshot). But most of the “workers” are men and the work they are glorifying is traditional blue-collar male work (e.g., carrying, lifting, pulling, building). The song was released in 1993 when issues of gender discrimination were both controversial and very topical. Perhaps this song represents a bit of cultural pushback on the then-eroding status of “men’s work”?

You get up every morning 'fore the sun comes up
Toss a lunchbox into a pickup truck
A long, hard day sure ain't much fun
But you've gotta get it started if you wanna get it done
You set your mind and roll up your sleeves
You're workin' on a working man's Ph.D.

With your heart in your hands and the sweat on your brow
You build the things that really make the world go around
If it works, if it runs, if it lasts for years
You bet your bottom dollar it was made right here
With pride, honor and dignity
From a man with a working man's Ph.D.


Now there ain't no shame in a job well done
From driving a nail to driving a truck
As a matter of fact I'd like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin' their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man's Ph.D.

When the quittin' whistle blows and the dust settles down
There ain't no trophies or cheering crowds
You'll face yourself at the end of the day
And be damn proud of whatever you've made
Can't hang it on the wall for the world to see
But you've got yourself a working man's Ph.D.


-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

More dawdling on farmworker rights in Alberta

Last week, I published a piece with Change Alberta about Alberta’s New Democratic government waffling on giving farmworkers basic workplace rights. For example, at present, farmworkers have no right to know if they are using carcinogenic chemicals and no right to refuse such work (unless they want to risk getting fired).

I was particularly concerned by remarks attributed to ND Minister of Agriculture Oneil Carlier in an interview with Real Agriculture:
He also indicates changes to farm unionization policy and labour standards are “not a focus for us at this time.” 
“Making sure we have market access, making sure we have transportation infrastructure in place to move product to the markets, those are continually challenges and things I’ll work on with stakeholders in both industries to make sure we continue growing agriculture and forestry,” says Carlier.
Basically, Carlier’s remarks suggest that helping farmers comes before protecting farmworkers. This sits uncomfortably with comments various ND luminaries made while in opposition about the importance of protecting the lives of farmworkers.

Subsequently, Carlier was interviewed (along with Wildrose Ag Critic Rick Starkman) by Alberta Farm Express. Carlier was more circumspect (he basically said nothing). Starkman, however, was (in the immortal words of Nickelback) “balls out”:
“If it creates a safety environment, I’m for that. But you cannot legislate intelligence.”
So basically the Wildrose line is that workers get injured because they are stupid. This view ignores the awkward fact that workers get injured because there are hazards in their workplace. And it is employers (i.e., farmers) who determine what the hazards are in the workplace and (for the most part) how farmworkers interact with them.

Still later last week, Carlier told the Calgary Herald that there will be Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) protections for farmworkers. But that the NDs are currently consulting with employers and farmworkers about the direction of those changes. Overall, this looks like an effort to walk back the comments attributed to Carlier in Real Agriculture.

Perhaps this is good news. Interestingly, even the Alberta Federation of Agriculture seems resigned to some sort of regulation/ That said, the former Tory government stalled the issue for years by consulting with stakeholders, only to come up with meaningless recommendations around education (which research suggests has no real effect on farmworker injury rates).

I suspect the NDs have a lot of fish to fry and don't want to needlessly alienate farm employers. But providing Alberta farmworkers with basic rights—so they are less likely to get injured and killed and so that farmworkers and their families aren’t made destitute by workplace injury—is a profound moral failing of the Tory regime that needs to be set right.

-- Bob Barnetson