Troy Winters | CUPE Health and Safety

Talking about mental illness is more and more common, thanks in large part to unions and other civil society organizations that have long pushed for adequate funding of mental health supports and services. Today, even corporations run campaigns to foster conversations around mental health and illness to lower the potency of stigma.

These conversations are welcome. However, too often, they overlook the workplace context. As workers know full well, work stress, excessive workload, and toxic working environments are massive contributors to mental illness and injury – either as direct causes or as aggravating factors.    

Your union can help. Workers have the right to psychologically safe and healthy workplaces, and workers can assert that right through organizing, campaigns, and bargaining.    

Here is some general bargaining language that locals can adapt for their own bargaining proposals:

The Union and the Employer shall cooperate to promote and to improve rules and practices, which enhance the physiological and psychological conditions of employees, and which provide protection from factors that undermine employee health and safety.

Note that this language has two distinct aspects. The language calls for “rules and practices”, which both enhance workers’ wellbeing and protect them from harm. In fact, any collective agreement language on workplace mental health (or psychological health) should have prevention of mental injury from workplace conditions at its core.    

Further points for bargaining proposals:   

  • Psychologically healthy and safe workplaces can be achieved by reducing psychosocial hazards.   
  • Initial risk assessment for mental health hazards will be performed and conducted as needed (or at least every two years), or on the recommendation of the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) or the health and safety representative (HSR) (as applicable).   
  • The Employer and the Union agree to develop a workplace mental health hazard prevention policy, as well as a program to implement it in the workplace.    
  • The program will include measures and procedures for reporting any mental health hazards in the workplace, as well as measures to assist employees who have experienced mental distress.   
  • The policy and the program will be reviewed annually, or as often as needed or recommended by the JHSC or the HSR (as applicable).   
  • The Employer will develop information, instruction, training and education on the mental health hazards in the workplace and how these workplace factors contribute to mental distress with the JHSC or the HSR (as applicable).