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Workload and casualization: It causes public sector workers to burn out and creates job insecurity

Feb 5, 2001 12:29 PM
 

The problem of not having enough time to get the job done is getting worse with the increase of part-time and casual jobs. To better understand the problem, imagine that casualization is like a coin.

On one side is the face of the worker who needs the job but is paid low wages with no benefits. There may be no union, no job security or seniority rights. There may be little training and a lot of stress and responsibility.

Casual workers don’t usually get full-time work unless they’re called in, often on short notice, because it suits their employer. The casual worker often is already disadvantaged. Many immigrant women, male workers of colour, workers with disabilities, and young or older workers are employed in these jobs. They’re called in during peak periods and expected to pick up a full load.

On the flipside of the coin is the face of the worker who has a full-time job with benefits and a union. That worker is likely facing increased pressure to work harder and longer hours with fewer co-workers. Often their loads increase because they are expected to train casual employees on top of their normal duties.

The full-timers know the work and the workplace. So they are constantly orienting, monitoring and back-filling for casual employees who can’t yet do the full job. At the end of the shift, casuals may walk away whether or not the work is done. Full-timers deal with the consequences of incomplete or shoddy work. It falls to them to pick up the pieces.

The full-time worker is more likely to be white, male and speak English. But whatever their background, their work is becoming more stressful and difficult. At the same time, they know their employer wants to hire cheaper, unprotected workers.

In short, casualization is causing public sector workers to burn out. It also creates competition between workers and undermines hard won gains at the bargaining table. Why is this happening and what can we do about it?

Why casualization?

If the employer can make more workers ‘casual’, fewer workers will work a standard work week, receive full benefits, have seniority rights, be union members or have control over their workload.

In a broader sense, casualization is a way for employers to gain flexibility for themselves while increasing insecurity for workers. As well, with casualization employers can increase productivity by speeding up work, standardizing procedures, downsizing, multi-skilling, reducing services to the public and under-funding.

Why do our employers want more flexibility and increased productivity? Governments have under-funded and restructured public services according to private sector values. They may want to prepare public services to be privatized or they may wish to avoid being accused of unfairly subsidizing services that corporations wish to produce and sell. So they push to gain flexibility and increase productivity as if, in the spirit of globalized competition, they were trying to maximize profits.

Only a few years ago, it was widely agreed that certain things should not be bought and sold. Today governments of the world’s most powerful countries have decided to bring public services under the discipline of the market.

How casualization affects workers

Casualization affects many workers. For example, a 1998 study on wages and working conditions in child care centres across Canada shows that almost one-third of the staff work under some kind of casual contract. This was true even though 91 per cent of teaching staff worked over 30 hours each week.

One fifth of these workers took on an extra job. Eighty per cent do so because they need a larger income to live. Most do not receive benefits. On average, child care teachers and assistant teachers work 4.6 hours of unpaid overtime each week. Nationally, the turnover rate among child care workers was 22 per cent in 1998. Ninety-eight per cent are women.

In New Brunswick, casual workers are not allowed to join a union. Many public sector workers, including hospital workers, jail guards, school personnel and snow plow operators work without employee status, contract rights or the right to unionize.

Marie-Lyne Blanchard is a casual worker who lost her job one day before she was to go on maternity leave. CUPE NB has mounted a campaign to have the legislation changed. It has even submitted a legal complaint to the International Labour Organization, accusing the New Brunswick government of abusing the rights of workers.

Library workers in Nova Scotia say part-time and casual staff hiring is on the rise. CUPE 3433 in Sackville says that casual workers are doing more of the regular work of bar coding and shelving.

In Ontario members of CUPE 3896, many of them immigrant women, struck Senior Peoples’ Resources in North Toronto (SPRINT). After 42 days, one member wrote to the board of directors:

“How do I explain this to my kids… How do I explain to them why Jane refuses to create full-time jobs with benefits…Why she wants to treat Supportive Housing Workers as casual workers even though they work full-time regular hours. How do I explain this to them?”

In Quebec, casual workers at the City of Montreal are protected by Bill 170. It provides for a “minimum staffing level” in collective agreements but the Quebec government wants to change the bill. Casual workers demonstrated in December 2000 against the proposed changes.

Marie-Claude Maynard, president of the City of Montreal’s casual outside workers’ union, says:

“This provision in our collective agreements has enabled hundreds of women, casual workers and youth to find jobs which would otherwise have been subcontracted. It is a well-established and documented fact that subcontractors do not hire women for non-traditional trades and offer minimum working conditions for youth.”

Across the country, untenured, part-time contract faculty are responsible for an ever- increasing percentage of university teaching. Part-time faculty are the university’s contingent workforce.

Without a union they have little job security, few benefits and low wages. Yet their workloads increase as universities fail to replace retiring permanent faculty. Sessional instructors are no longer considered ‘professors-in-training’. They are flexible, highly productive and dispensable workers.

Casualization is not unusual in this sector. Statistics Canada reports that of all non-permanent job types, education and related services ranks first at 15.1 per cent. About 1.8 per cent of non-permanent workers are located in the retail trade sector. Health and welfare services rank third at 10.3 per cent and accommodation and food services is next at 8.6 per cent.

Casualization affects some workers differently

Employers try to achieve ‘flexibility’ and cost-savings by increasing the use of non-union or less-protected workers in casual jobs. This threatens hard-won rights and makes it more likely that employers will demand concessions in future bargaining rounds.

But casualization is not just a problem for workers with the strongest collective agreements and the most secure jobs. It is also a problem for women workers fighting for equality.

In the last 10 years, the number of women holding more than one job has grown by 45 per cent, while the number of men holding multiple jobs has risen by only 4 per cent.

Also, when comparing full-time work, women earn 70 cents for every dollar a man earns in Canada. Why? Partly because many women work under some kind of insecure ‘casual’ contract.

Government, employers, and even some spouses expect women to work long hours raising children and doing unpaid household labour. In the absence of adequate child care, the “double-day” shuts many women out of higher paid, more secure jobs.

For most of us, the “family wage” or male wage is a myth. Single-mothers need good jobs with benefits. Lesbians do not depend on a man’s wages. Still, employers take advantage of the notion of an ‘ideal’ nuclear family to justify making “women’s” work cheaper than “men’s” work.

Even a “good” job does not meet all the needs of the “typical” working-class family. When governments create two tiers of jobs, they may argue that women need the “flexibility” of temporary positions. This allows them to look after children and supplement the income of their husbands.

Flexibility, however, is usually defined in terms of employers’ needs for cheap labour, not the needs of the family. Employers (even public employers) will look for any justification to keep their costs down.

What we need instead is a ‘living wage’ for all workers, whether they need to care for young children, aging parents, relatives unable to work in Canada, ill relatives, or their own economic security.

We need to recognize that not all men find secure, well-paying jobs, with benefits and dignity. In fact, immigrant men and male workers of colour might be highly qualified and highly educated, but find themselves working in casual or part-time jobs. A foreign-born visible minority worker earns, on average, about 78 cents for every dollar earned by a foreign-born white person.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation reports that “hidden discrimination” works against visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. It prevents them from having equal access to jobs.

The report shows that Aboriginal and visible minority people experience a subtle form of racism which includes “being passed over for promotion, being assigned unpleasant tasks at work, being stereotyped, and being excluded from the ‘inner circle’ of their workplace.”

The report also says:

“Although visible minorities generally have higher levels of education than white Canadians, they suffer from lower levels of employment and income…Foreign-born visible minorities and Aboriginal people are over-represented in the bottom 20 per cent of income earners and are under-represented in the top 20 per cent of income earners. Only 29 per cent of Canadian-born visible minorities and 21 per cent of foreign-born visible minorities with a university education were in the top 20 per cent of the income scale compared to 38 per cent of Canadian-born whites.”

Some studies have shown that full-time, public sector jobs in clerical, data processing and administrative support have been reduced dramatically over the past decade.

The Canadian Labour Congress reports that women of colour, aboriginal women and women with disabilities who had barely got a foot in the door are now being squeezed out.

It’s the same old story: Last Hired, First Fired.

What successes have we had?

In Manitoba hospitals, CUPE locals have faced the gradual erosion of full-time positions. Employers were treating regular part-time employees as casual, even though “part-time” was defined as “one who regularly works less than full-time hours but not less than seven and three-quarter hours in a bi-weekly period” (Art. 702 (b)).

CUPE locals were continually grieving the issue by arguing that someone who is regularly working at least one shift every pay period should be considered part-time, with pro-rated benefits.

In the 1999 round of provincial bargaining, the Provincial Health Care Council negotiated a periodic joint review of casual positions. The task was to convert these to regular positions for part-time workers who wish to increase their hours. The 8,500 health care workers got improved wages and benefits as well as the increased full-time jobs.

The Trade Union Act of Nova Scotia prohibits strikes over union demands to unionize casual workers. Nevertheless, two years ago, CUPE members in Sydney made a commitment to get casual workers into the bargaining unit.

After 10 years of frozen contracts, bargaining committees began to appeal to the conscience of employers with an ‘in your face’ strategy. “I’m going to be there every time you turn around, fighting for the rights of these workers”, said Barb Kowalski to the employers of Sydney. “If you say no, then I’m going to file a grievance anyway.”

Now, three years later, the vast number of collective agreements in Sydney include casual workers. With them in the bargaining unit, the rights of casuals can become a strike issue. The job now is to increase their wages and benefits. This issue has become an important one in CUPE’s provincial bargaining commitments.

In 1998, the Nova Scotia Highway Workers Union (CUPE 1867) ratified its first contract after almost 10 years of wage freezes and rollbacks. Significant gains were made for casuals who become regular union members after two years, instead of three years, and after working fewer hours. Over 200 casuals became eligible for holiday pay, vacation pay and pension benefits.

Ontario CUPE members at the Windsor/Essex Community Care Access Centre ended a three-month strike with a new contract that included wages in lieu of benefits for part-timers and casuals.

City of Toronto workers (CUPE 79) have been dealing with massive restructuring and amalgamation. It has brought 12,000 unorganized casual workers into the part-time bargaining unit.

Most of these workers are seasonal and linked to parks and recreation programs. Local 79 has struck a committee to find out how many are working more than 35 hours a week. This is no small task given that there are 853 work locations.

In early 2000 negotiations, the city did not want to define the working week. Local 79 worried that this meant the city wanted to define every one as ‘casual’ and hours of work became a strike issue.

“We took it for granted. The old City of Toronto agreement was 55 years old. The Metro Toronto agreement was from 1954. We thought, it’s here forever. It’s a cornerstone. But the city took the position that it’s a whole new employer and a whole new ball game”, said CUPE national representative Jack Kirby. “This is something that will come up in all the other city amalgamations, like in Montreal. And it’s the same issue they had a strike over in Kingston.”

After an 11-day strike, Local 79 was able to get the old language on working hours into the new amalgamated City of Toronto agreement. “We wouldn’t have achieved it if we hadn’t hit the bricks,” said Kirby.

Since the late 1970s, the ‘casual’ employee has usually meant ‘seasonal’ worker for outside workers at the City of Regina (CUPE 21). Although unionized, some workers had spent 15-20 years as casuals with no access to bereavement or sick leave. They were paid their vacation pay in each cheque so many ended up working the year round.

As a result of the 1993 settlement, improvements were made for casual workers. The local executive and the city manager agreed that 40-50 casual positions would become permanent. In Local 21, casual workers have a designated position on the local executive.

When the employer began to take advantage of this category to shuffle casual workers into vacancies, the union responded. Some workers, for example, those who look after the football stadium in the summer and fall, were kept on to look after the indoor and outdoor skating rinks in the winter. The executive of the local took the position that these are permanent positions and should be posted. A major effort in 1999 meant that a lot of positions were posted.

As CUPE national representative Malcolm Matheson describes it, “the executive has to be vigilant and make sure these positions get posted. Otherwise, the employer will keep trying to slide a person in and out of these jobs.”

This goes for the mainly female workforce inside city hall too. CUPE 7 had gained full time benefits and status for employees considered “full-time casuals” in 1987 but the application was very specific.

In the 1993 agreement improvements were made. “Right now there are about 20 casual workers in Local 7, but from time to time, the number creeps up to 50-60 and the union had to fight to get the number back down. It’s an ongoing issue for inside workers,” says Matheson.

CUPE 3197 at the City of Edmonton negotiated full-time status and benefits for casuals. Here’s how it works:

The employer found it difficult to fill scheduling gaps due to short- and long- term absences, vacation, training schedules, lieu time, and sick time, and a high demand for casual workers. By analysing potential absences over time it was possible to chart ongoing personnel needs and create full-time jobs just to fill scheduling gaps.

This benefits the employer since they do not have to pay overtime or keep an inventory of available or “on-call” employees. While the new employees may have to work in many different sites, they are scheduled in advance. They also receive permanent employment, health benefits and pensions.

A variation of this model is being discussed with hospital employers. It would provide for a common pool of floater employees who could be dispatched to various sites on an ongoing basis.

What else can we do about it?

What else can we do to tackle the problem of casualization as it affects workload? Here are some possible responses.

  • Get casual workers and part-time workers into the bargaining unit so employers cannot divide organized and unorganized workers.
  • Fight for changes to labour legislation to provide union rights to casual and part-time workers and to limit the employer’s use of part-time and casual workers.
  • Develop bargaining strategies to convert casual and part-time into full-time positions.
  • Bargain benefits for casual workers.
  • Grieve the issue as necessary.
  • File for conciliation if no movement at the bargaining table.
  • Test contract language, such as “work of the bargaining unit” or “no-contracting out”, at arbitration.
  • Seek the elimination of the “casual” classification altogether.
  • Negotiate a ceiling on the number of casuals in the unit or a ratio of part-time to full-time positions.
  • Negotiate a list of work they cannot do (virtually everything bargaining unit members normally do).
  • Bargain on-site recruitment for regular positions so that the diversity of the community is reflected in the public service workplace.
  • Encourage government to recognize international experience and accreditation so that artificial barriers do not prevent immigrants from holding full-time permanent jobs.
  • Campaign for a national child care program.
  • Educate members about the issue.
  • Make it a strike issue.
  • Take on an ‘In-your-face’ approach to legislative hurdles.
  • Start to represent part-time and casual workers and negotiate on their behalf even if they cannot belong to the union; act as if they are members to force the employer to recognize them.

Conclusion

To tackle the workload problems caused by casualization, CUPE needs to stand strong in demanding that employers hire enough full-time staff to assure coverage of vacations, sick leave and other absences.

By adopting this policy, employers don’t have to resort to casuals for coverage and workers can return from a leave without facing a huge backlog. They will also help ensure the high quality and continuity of public services.

CUPE members do not want competition between workers to undermine hard won gains at the bargaining table. Full-time and casual workers both know there should be nothing casual about CUPE’s response to the problem.

All workers need a collective response to employers’ demands to ‘casual-ize’ our jobs.