The communications sector meeting led to some highly dynamic and productive discussions, and a number of issues were covered.
The majority of our members in this sector work for private companies. Competition is fierce, and employers are constantly pushing to contract out work and make it more precarious (part-time or casual). Some jobs are being lost or moved elsewhere. Delegates at the meeting had an opportunity to share information and strategies for countering these trends. Some locals have clauses in their collective agreements to prevent subcontracting and protect job security. Those in attendance agreed to continue pooling their ideas and best practices.
A good part of the discussions focused on occupational health and safety, particularly psychological health. All too often, physical health issues are easier to identify, diagnose and treat than mental health issues. As one participant observed, “To protect your head, you put on a helmet, but what do you do to protect what’s inside your head?” It’s true: problems relating to stress, psychological abuse and harassment are widespread throughout the sector. Psychological distress at call centres is a well-documented issue and just one example.
Participants had the chance to explore some encouraging ideas and practices for improving the situation. They also acknowledged CUPE’s excellent work in health and safety, and expressed a desire to see more tools developed in the area of psychological health in the workplace.
The communications sector is constantly evolving due to technological change and other factors, all of which have dramatic impact on the work of our members. Companies are moving away from traditional services (landline telephony, television) and toward wireless and Internet technologies. This creates numerous problems, including unfair competition from new platforms such as Netflix. CUPE has also been taking part in campaigns to ensure that Netflix and other companies pay taxes in Canada, which is not currently the case. Issues in terms of Canadian content and local news have also taken on new importance due to these technological advances and new ways of consuming information, among other challenges.
The meeting concluded with a discussion of the benefits of unionization for workers. Through strength in numbers, unions are tools for building solidarity and democracy. They also create greater job security, which is essential in an environment where work is becoming increasingly precarious. They help workers to earn better wages and gain access to better pension plans and job benefits. Last but not least, unions play a key role in improving occupational health and safety, both physically and psychologically. In a context where numerous private companies in the sector are not unionized, it is important to convey this information about the union advantage more effectively.