Friday, March 16, 2018

Labour & Pop Culture: Safety Training

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture looks at the recent Superstore episode entitled “Safety Training”. This episode centres on a minor workplace injury to a worker (Mateo). There were three main subplots of note.

First, the store is keen to get Mateo to accept a small monetary payment in exchange for waiving his right to sue. The waiver includes a background check on Mateo (who is undocumented) so he declines the initial offer of $1000. This triggers an escalating series of offers that eventually reaches $50k.

This fear-of-litigation dynamic speaks to a key reason why Canadian employers typically support workers’ compensation system: it limits employer liability for injuries. The historic trade-off in workers’ comp is that workers (usually) get stable, immediate and predictable compensation but give up their right to sue.

Second, the series of safety incidents in the store results in the employer offering a refresher course in workplace safety. The training (e.g., how to mop) is completely demeaning to the workers. It also has no relationship to the incidents that caused the incidents. This kind of biting commentary of corporate training is one of the reasons Superstore is worthwhile watching.

Third, there is a darker subplot wherein a previously injured worker finds out the employer lowballed him on its settlement for cutting off his finger. Seeing the potential for financial gain, the worker then commences trying to re-injury himself. In the end, the insanity of this behaviour becomes clear even to the dim-witted worker. This sub-plot is a sharp critique of the notion that workers will malinger on compensation.

I couldn’t find a link to any on-point clips of the episode. But I did find this digital exclusive where Garrett developed a VR training simulation of how to close up the store. It is worth a watch.

-- Bob Barnetson

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