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Increased action on workload, materials to deal with workplace violence and bullying, and more enforcement and stiffer penalties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act those were just a few of the hot health and safety topics on the floor of this years convention.

We need to make sure that our governments understand that we are not fodder for the (business) machine, said a southern Ontario delegate, that we are not going to give up our lives, our health and safety for profit.

One HEU delegate spoke about the stress of losing job after job and the growing psychological damage to people suffering ongoing cutbacks in his province. We have it bad in BC because we have a premier that is the biggest bully, he said, referring to Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell.

Collusion, corruption and criminality denounced

At an evening forum, Bob Sass, the father of health and safetys three sacred rights (the right to refuse, the right to participate and the right to know) described the collusion, corruption and criminality that lie at the foundation of todays health and safety process. Sass was Saskatchewans director for occupational health and safety in 1971 under Allan Blakeneys NDP government. He confessed to delegates his part in legitimizing a shift to scientific proof rather than relying on workers experiences to validate health and safety problems in the workplace.

Our bodies are the best instruments for determining the health and safety of workplaces our ears, nose, our skin for thermal conditions, our eyes for dust and so on. We are the best instrument, Sass said.

He explained that scientific studies and standards, which are perceived as neutral and objective, have annihilated our way of knowing about risks and overwhelmed workers rights. Standards and data banks, like those of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, are based on industry-sponsored research with predictable results, Sass told the crowd of almost two hundred activists.

Every single regulatory committee in North America, said Sass, referring to the 1970s and early 80s, was dominated by industry scientists. Some were not even consultants, they were just employees. Many were chair of these committees.

(Now) it has gone so far that the Bush administration has taken out all public interest scientists from any of these bodies and stacked them with industry nominations some who have no credentials at all. It would be reckless for us today to accept any of these recommendations regarding standard setting, he said, calling the collusion outright criminality.

After Sasss address, delegates shared experiences from their locals.

One Saskatchewan member said that she had noticed that the health and safety minutes of joint committee meetings were looking a lot like her to-do list at home and were more about fixing vents than getting rid of stressors.

Its about dignity

How do we change things so that people start to think about occupational health and safety as a dignity issue as opposed to changing some goddamned door knob, she asked. Another speaker from CUPE 503, representing municipal workers in Ottawa, spoke of a successful campaign in his local to hold contractors who arent playing by the same rules accountable. The local used a night vision camera to gather proof of violations, sending the evidence to the Ministry of Labour.

I think what weve got to learn how to do is to get more guerilla active in terms of safety. Get down in the trenches. Develop ways to hold contractors accountable because they are the ones coming in and driving our safety down in the workplace. They are the ones coming in and taking our jobs, he said. We made the contractors responsible. And, as we had success in doing that, we had more people step forward. The more successes, the more activists.

Doreen Meyer

Stress and workload killing members

At the forum, serious concerns about stress and workload were voiced during the question and answer session.

Workload is the biggest problem that we have right now, said a CUPE rep from Grand Prairie, a former CUPE member, speaking about the downloading he has seen in nursing homes and school boards. Its killing our members and theres nothing to address the injuries that arise out of that because they are not, in most respects, physical injuries.

One first-time delegate who works for Air Transat spoke about the changes in her workplace since September 11 and inspectors who refuse to enforce legislation, saying it doesnt apply.

There are people that will come up and try to grab your throat these days, she said, referring to increasingly violent passengers. We are losing people. Theyre being laid off, taken back, depressions. Some of them are being killed by the work because they are committing suicide in the end. Weve lost two members this year. Its becoming a crisis.

The legislation very much does apply, national health and safety branch director Anthony Pizzino said, offering assistance from the branch and the national health and safety committee.

A new health and safety guideline on stress made its debut at the forum and an overwork guideline was distributed to all CUPE locals last fall. Produced by the branch, both guidelines are tools for action, offering members concrete ways to address these growing workplace problems.

We certainly want to hear about problems of enforcement, Pizzino told the member. You cant be shut down. You cant be shut up.

Visit cupe.ca for the guidelines Enough Overwork: Taking Action on Workload and Enough Workplace Stress: Organizing for Change or contact CUPEs national health and safety branch.