World Health Day – April 7
“Building a fairer, healthier world”
If the COVID-19 crisis has brought to light some of the inadequacies of our healthcare system, it has also revealed how little prepared our public institutions were to deal with a nation-wide health crisis of this scale. The pandemic has tested federal institutions on multiple levels, particularly their capacity to protect the health and safety of federal employees right from the beginning. Since March 2020, we have all made some progress to keep everyone equally safe, but not without a few hiccups along the way.
In the early days of the pandemic, as the federal government was grappling with the need to protect its employees while maintaining critical services to Canadians, many essential and front-line federal employees had to be kept on the job, struggling to manage their own health and safety risks in the absence of clear guidelines and adequate protective equipment. Just as the lockdown was enforced, the National Joint Council created the COVID-19 Task Force, bringing together the union community and the Treasury Board, which immediately focused on correcting these unfair situations and quickly adopting measures to protect federal employees most at risk.
But over time, we also learned that it is not only the virus that made the workplace unsafe or unhealthy for federal employees, it is also the new world it created around itself, as the subsequent months revealed. It is the lack of setup for people having to work from home. It is the impact of extended isolation on people’s mental health. It is the risk of domestic violence increased by social isolation, loss of employment and reduced income. For federal interpreters, it is the sudden multiplication of virtual meetings compounded by faulty equipment or the improper use of equipment by meeting participants. For numerous parents and caregivers, many of whom are women, it is dealing with burnout-prone family and work-balance dilemmas because they can no longer rely on external care services.
As we reflect on how we can contribute to building a fairer and healthier world as part of World Health Day 2021, we want to look at what we have learned from the pandemic. We need to make long-lasting adjustments where we can, and the workplace is a good place for us to start.
Until then, federal employees can count on health and safety champions in their Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Committees. There has never been a better time to connect with members of those committees, or to join one, to see that the employer plays its role in protecting the health and safety of its employees, and fairly so. Those committees also collect critical data that help unions better understand employees’ workplace reality, and can reveal irregular situations that could warrant union intervention.
Empowering those OSH committees is an excellent way to bring important changes into the workplace and to give your union the knowledge it needs to assess your workplace health and safety and to fight to fix it.
Information you can use
Ergonomic checklist if you are working from home:
The right to a safe and healthy workplace
According to your collective agreements, the employer is responsible for ensuring that you work in a safe and healthy environment.
Occupational Health and Safety is also covered in the Canada Labour Code. Part II of the Code outlines your right to complain about a suspected or confirmed unhealthy and unsafe situation The internal complaint process for health and safety contraventions is covered in sections 127.1(1) and 127.1(3).
National Service Centre and OHS Committee
You can also call the National Service Centre at 1-800-463-1850 and/or the Occupational Health and Safety Committee in your workplace to inform them of the situation and seek further guidance.
You have questions? Contact your Labour Relations Officer (LRO) or your Local
Locals defend members' rights and interests through organization, advocacy, and consultation on behalf of its members and can help inform them on matters of concern and of interest in the workplace. In this specific case, a Local would work closely with the LRO to assist members who have been affected. If you do not have a Local and are dealing with work-related issues, you could consider starting one! Contact your LRO today to find out more.