Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Family leave for Albertans?

The Vanier Institute of the Family recently released a short summary of caregiving in Canada. Caregiving entails providing support to a family member or friend who has a long-term health condition or a disability, or who requires care due to aging.

In the past year, 28% of Canadians have acted as caregivers and just over one third of all employed Canadians are also caregivers. The number of Canadians requiring caregiving is expected to double in the next 30 years due to demographic factors.

About 15% of employer caregivers have reduced their weekly hours of work to accommodate care giving. Of this group, 14% reported losing some or all of their benefits as a result of this reduction. About 44% of employer caregivers also reported missing an average of 8-9 day of employment in a year due to caregiving responsibilities.

As Alberta considers the first major changes to its Employment Standards Code since the 1980s, two changes could help caregivers.

First, the government could harmonize the length of job-protected leave in Alberta to care for a gravely ill or dying loved one (currently 8 weeks) with federal Employment Insurance benefits (26 weeks). Harmonizing these provisions with federal EI provisions would ensure that workers accessing compassionate care EI benefits would not lose their job while caring for loved ones. This change would likely disproportionately benefit women.

Second, Alberta could implement some form of family illness leave. Neither the Employment Standards Code nor the Human Rights Act provides workers with leave to care for sick family members (e.g., children, parents). Ontario provides employees who work for firms with at least 50 employees up to 10 days per year of unpaid personal emergency leave to cope with personal or family illness or medical emergencies. This leave would be most effective if extended to all employees (regardless of employer size).

Clarifying Alberta’s provisions around personal illness leave would also improve workers’ access to remedy in the event the employer denies such leave (remedy is presently murky but appears to fall within the ambit of the Human Rights Commission).

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, February 24, 2017

Labour & Pop Culture: Work Away

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is “Work Away” by Classified. I’m a collaborator on a SSHRC funded project about Employment-Related Geographic Mobility (ERGM) called On The Move.

One of the most interesting and moving parts of the research that I’ve been able to read are the stories of mobile workers—whether they are nannies or kitchen staff or construction workers from the Atlantic Canada or the Philippines. The complex ways that they maintain a connection to their families and how they manage being away (and back and then away again) is amazing.

This song tells the story of these migrant workers (mostly interprovincial migrants) who travel (often for extended periods) to work away. It touches on the effect separation from family has on the workers and their families. And it reveals their motives (bread on the table).

In looking at the experiences of mobile workers, it is important to keep this in mind. For example, many mobile workers are prepared to accept long hours (often beyond what is legally permissible) because their primary reason for being in Alberta is to work and earn money. This has policy implications because it undermines the complaint-based system of employment regulation that we have.


My name's Cole [?], I'm from Prince George, BC, Canada
I work in Fort Mac, I'm only home about 7 days out of each month
My family lives in Enfield, Nova Scotia and I work in Baffin Island, Nunavut
I'm Wendy [?], I'm from Vancouver Island and I work up in the Alberta oil sands

[Chorus: David Myles]
I may be tired but I'm not asleep
My eyes are open and my heart still beats
I may be outside, but I'm not out cold
I got my heart and I still got my soul
It's time to get my feet back on the ground
It's my last night home, tomorrow, I'm gone
I work away, I work away
Tomorrow, I'm gone
I work away, I work away
It's my last night at home, tomorrow, I'm gone

I gotta wake up before the sun's up
I gotta catch a flight in the early morn
My bags are packed and my favorite hat
I work away to make it work at home
I'm gone again, gone again
Give the kids kisses, I'm off again
They don't wanna see me have to leave
But I'll be back soon, I promise them
I work away cause there ain't enough work where I come from
But honestly, I love where I come from
So I'm back home under one month

From the West coast to the East coast
To my family and my people
Don't miss a beat when my heart skips
I gotta work hard through these hardships
I put my head down and go for it
Put in overtime with no bonuses
And my girl's birthday is next week
I'm just hoping that I'll be home for it
So leave the lights on, keep the bed warm
I'll be there in just a minute
I'll see you soon as I can, but I got business that I gotta finish
I work away


I know  I'm gonna miss this when I'm gone
But I'm optimistic and stay strong
I write this song for anybody who gotta work long distance and beyond
Anybody working 3 weeks on to get a week off, then put your feet up
Then you gotta try to give the weed up
Cause it might be your week to fill the pee cup (awww)
I'm feeling it for ya, but you work it out
There ain't much work in this town
But we put our head down and search it out
We drive away, fly away
And I don't wanna say goodbye today
I love my home, but I gotta go
And I know it's just a small price to pay
Cause if you don't work, then it won't work

Tonight, let's have a little toast for
The people leaving in the morning
We can't wait 'til you come back home, work
I got pictures on my cellphone, I got memories on my mind
They'll be back, just a matter of time
Then we'll do this again, but it's back to the grind
We work


[Outro: (David Myles)]
Alright, my name is A.J. [?] I work 5 hours away, 5 days a week for my wife and 2 little girls in North Bay, Ontario
C.J. [?] from New Harbour, Newfoundland, I work all over the world, I leave for four weeks at a time
This is [?], my family's from North Toledo, Ohio
(I may be outside, but I'm not out cold
I got my heart and I still got my soul
It's time to get my feet back on the ground
It's my last night home, tomorrow, I'm gone)

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Research: Latino farmworker OHS in Saskatchewan

This week I finally got around to reading a dissertation from the University of Saskatchewan that examines occupational health and safety of Latino migrant farm workers. I’ve been looking forward to reading this for awhile.

The study entitled “Latino Migrant Farmworkers in Saskatchewan: 
Occupational Health and Safety Education and the Sustainability of Agriculture” examines the OHS training that these farm workers receive and considers the barriers that may exist to maximizing its effectiveness.

Language barriers, personal and cultural factors are identified as factors affecting safety training, with language barriers being identified by virtually every research participant (Latino workers, employers, bureaucrats, Canadian workers) discussing it. This barrier also affects migrant workers’ ability to access health care and causes social isolation, compounding the geographic isolation associated with prairie agriculture. And linguistic barriers can intensify the risk of hazards because workers may not be told about the hazard or control strategies and/or may not understand such information.

The nature of seasonal agricultural work may also be a factor. Such work is often difficulty and unpleasant. It is also often time pressured and hazard control strategies may be only partially implemented or ignored in the face of production pressure. Productivity can become the dominant value of all players—this is certainly something we see in Alberta with farms exempted from many of the work-time constraints that every other workplace must follow.

The researcher also considered aspects of the labour mobility programs that allow these workers to enter Canada. Specifically, labour mobility regimes may reinforce the focus on productivity at the expense of other considerations. Workers in such programs are profoundly vulnerable to their employers and resistance can result in being sent home or not rehired in subsequent years. This reduces the ability and willingness of workers to consider OHS issues or participate in training. Workers must also cope with social isolation and stress, which may reduce their ability to engage with OHS training.

English-language training that is focused on the circumstances of the workers and training on machinery are identified as two issues that require attention. This training is necessary to address unsafe agricultural practices that workers may have learned in their home countries (there seemed to be a gendered effect here). Adequate workplace support (including the availability of translators), changes in how contracts are structured, and a different approach to safety training (that engages the worker more fully) are suggested.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, February 17, 2017

Labour & Pop Culture: This Land is Your Land

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is “This Land is Your Land” written by Woodie Guthrie. Most people are familiar with the first three verses of the song (it is a standard of school and camp sing-alongs). 

The real meat of the song is in the last verses which Guthrie didn’t record, possibly because he feared the communist witch-hunt lead by Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s.

They talk about how the institution of private property undermines the ability of average American’s to enjoy the country that is their birthright.
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
And they draw attention to the grinding poverty that many Americans experience due to the operation of a capitalist economy.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
The prevalence of gated communities, food banks, urban ghettos, and xenophobia that is evident in the United States today suggests progress (for the many) has been slow and uneven. I chose Bruce Springsteen’s cover of the song because he sings the less common verses (including the more critical ones).

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

35 years after the Ocean Ranger

Thirty five years ago tomorrow, the 84 crew aboard the drilling rig Ocean Ranger were killed about 250km east of St. John's, NL. The loss of the Ocean Ranger started with storm damage caused by a severe hurricane. The sea was running at 55 to 65 feet.

As the rig flooded and eventually sank, most of the crew evacuated (either in a life boat or by jumping into the sea—the exact reason there were men loose in the sea is unclear) and then perished. A Royal Commission found:
that the crew were not trained, the safety equipment was inadequate, there were no safety protocols for the supply ship, and that the rig itself had a number of flaws. The Royal Commission concluded that Ocean Ranger had design and construction flaws, particularly in the ballast control room, and that the crew lacked proper safety training, survival suits and equipment. The Royal Commission also concluded that inspection and regulation by United States and Canadian government agencies was ineffective.
Susan Dodd has written a wonderful book about how the Ocean Ranger disaster was repackaged by and to serve corporate interests. Perhaps more accessible is Ron Hynes' touching tribute to the families left behind by these occupational fatalities.

What colour is a heartache from a love lost at sea?
What shade of memory never fades but lingers to eternity?
And how dark is the light of day that sleepless eyes of mine survey?
Is that you, Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you.

How is one heart chosen to never lie at peace?
How many moments remain? Is there not one sweet release?
And who’s the stranger at my door, to haunt my dreams forever more?
Is that you, Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you.

I lie awake in the morning, as waves wash on the sand,
I hold my hurt at bay, I hold the lives of his children in my hands.
And whose plea will receive no answer? Whose cry is lost upon the wind?
Who’s the voice so familiar, whispers my name as the night comes in?

And whose wish never fails to find my vacant heart on Valentine’s?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold,
My heart is as cold, my heart is as cold as you.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, February 10, 2017

Labour & Pop Culture: Deportee

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture looks at “Deportee” written by Woody Guthrie. This song is about a 1948 plane crash that killed 28 migrant farm workers being returned from the United States to Mexico. (A misunderstanding about the nature of the US Bracero program resulted in the workers being labeled deportees).

This song draws our attention to the strange discourse on migrant workers in the United States. The country (particularly in labour-intensive sectors of agriculture) is profoundly dependent upon migrants workers with no legal right to work in the US. These workers basically subsidize the price of food for everyone because they have no choice but to accept grindingly low wages and terrible working conditions.

For their hard work, they are demonized. Most recently, Donald Trump has (without any evidence) accused illegal migrants of massive voter fraud. A more common critique centres on such workers “stealing our jobs” (that no citizen will take because the jobs are so terrible…). This “othering” of migrant workers is very similar to the othering of immigrants and other racialized groups, again most notably in the rising tide of Islamaphobia evident in the US and Canada.

Guthrie’s song pointedly talks about the cost (to migrant workers) of their poor treatment and how the appalling treatment of human beings is downplayed when we label them as “illegals” or “deportees”.

There are dozens and dozens of covers of this song. I chose KT Tunstall’s acoustic cover—she has a lovely voice and has shifted the melody away from the 1940s folk sound that is so tedious:

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

new course: IDRL 215: Intro to Labour Relations

A few weeks ago, Athabasca University opened a new course. IDRL 215: Introduction to Labour Relations replaced the venerable IDRL 201 and  IDRL 312 courses (which we have closed).

This change (which should have no effect on students who are in program) is part of our ongoing efforts to revitalize the curriculum.

IDRL 312 and 201 represented some of AU's early efforts to provide a comprehensive introduction to the field of labour relations.

As our course offerings have grown (and the world has changed), some rethinking of what is taught and how we teach it has become necessary. We're hopeful that IDRL 215 will be an enjoyable introduction to labour relations.

In a month or so, we will also be opening IDRL 316: Collective Bargaining and Grievance Arbitration, which will replace two older courses: IDRLs 305 and 404. Again, this change is mostly about increasing the coherence of our program and we have arranged things so program students will not be negatively affected.

We'll be taking similar steps with some of our EDUC courses over the next few years. For example, EDUC/HRMT 310 (The Canadian Training System) was our first foray into the topic of human resource development. It covered a little bit of everything.

Since then, we've added four more undergraduate courses on that topic. This has left the purpose of EDUC/HRMT 310 a bit unclear.

I am currently revising the course to make it EDUC 210: The Canadian Training System. This course will offer a clear introduction to labour market training in Canada and to our other offerings:

EDUC 316: Program Planning and Methods in Adult Learning
EDUC 317: Training and Development in Organizations
EDUC 406: Work and Learning
IDRL 496: Comparative Labour Education

As I revise EDUC 210, I am also writing a textbook, that students will receive in both digital and paper formats. I am hopeful the new course will open in about a year.

-- Bob Barnetson

Friday, February 3, 2017

Labour & Pop Culture: Code Monkey

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture features “Code Monkey” by Jonathan Coulton. This song extends the “tech worker” theme we saw last week in Stan Roger’s “White Collar Hollar” but is more modern in its views.

Code monkey is a derogatory term for computer programmers (“Code monkey: go for brains!”). In this song, the singer is a Code Monkey with a fairly unsatisfying job and a jerk for a boss. There is a humorous “lives of quiet desperation” element to the song:
Have boring meeting with boring manager Rob
Rob say Code Monkey very diligent
But his output stink
His code not functional or elegant 
What do Code Monkey think
Code Monkey think maybe manager oughta write goddamn login page himself
Code Monkey not say it out loud
Code Monkey not crazy just proud
So why does Code Monkey stay? Well, the song also treads into the difficulty territory of office crushes. While the song doesn’t go there, you have to wonder what the “front desk girl” thinks of Code monkey’s affections.

There are multiple version of Code Monkey. The video is of an uptempo version. There is, however, a simply beautiful acoustic version on this page (scroll down to Code Monkey Save World Unplugged and click Code monkey to listen).

Code Monkey get up get coffee
Code Monkey go to job
Have boring meeting with boring manager Rob
Rob say Code Monkey very diligent
But his output stink
His code not functional or elegant

What do Code Monkey think
Code Monkey think maybe manager oughta write goddamn login page himself
Code Monkey not say it out loud
Code Monkey not crazy just proud

Code Monkey like Fritos
Code Monkey like Tab and Mountain Dew
Code Monkey very simple man
With big warm fuzzy secret heart
Code Monkey like you
Code Monkey like you

Code Monkey hang around at front desk
Tell you sweater look nice
Code Monkey offer buy you soda
Bring you cup bring you ice
You say no thank you for the soda 'cause
Soda make you fat
Anyway you busy with the telephone
No time for chat

Code Monkey have long walk back to cubicle
He sit down pretend to work
Code Monkey not thinking so straight
Code Monkey not feeling so great


Code Monkey have every reason
To get out this place
Code Monkey just keep on working
To see your soft pretty face
Much rather wake up eat a coffee cake
Take bath, take nap

This job fulfilling in creative way
Such a load of crap
Code Monkey think someday he have everything even pretty girl like you
Code Monkey just waiting for now
Code Monkey say someday, somehow


-- Bob Barnetson