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A survey of some 700 front line workers in the social services sector confirms what our members across the country have known for some time: the sector is rife with high rates of stress, deteriorating health and safety conditions and most disturbingly increased incidents of violence at work.

The findings reinforce a key plank in the action plan adopted at the 1999 convention, where delegates committed CUPE to increase its work on workload and workplace stress. Conducted among Ontario workers by CUPE Nationals Research and Health and Safety branches, the survey was a pilot project that will be undertaken in other provinces in the coming year.

The survey results and a report entitled Overloaded and Under Fire were released at a news conference that kicked off the 1999 Ontario social service workers conference.

Toronto developmental services worker Joanne OConnor said, “people sometimes forget that the clients social workers deal with include people with mental disorders, sex offenders and, in some cases, people with violent criminal behaviour.”

OConnor, who works for the Toronto Association for Community Living (CUPE 2191), says, “our workplaces are increasingly understaffed, while our employer continues to hire more and more part-time workers who dont have the training or the skills to deal with potentially violent clients.”

Speaking at the conference, National President Judy Darcy said, “the fact that almost three quarters of those surveyed said they were subjected to a combination of physical assaults, verbal abuse or threats at work is just a totally unacceptable situation.

“Equally disturbing, is that eighty-seven per cent of these workers said their workload had increased in the past year. We can thank downsizing, funding cuts and so-called restructuring for that,” added Darcy.

“Our members on the front line of social services have been reporting these workload increases for years now and nothing is being done about it.”

As part of CUPEs action plan, delegates to national convention agreed the problems of workload and stress would be put squarely on the bargaining table in upcoming rounds of negotiations.

John McCracken

To see the full report, check Health and Safety at www.cupe.ca or contact the Health and Safety Branch at CUPE National.