“The role of the union is to offer support, make recommendations and serve as a resource,” says Anne Filiatrault, a member of CUPE Local 1500 and a member of the CUPE Quebec provincial occupational health and safety committee.

Anne is an underground cable splicer for Hydro-Québec, a job traditionally held by men. She recently completed an FTQ training course on union challenges and myths concerning women’s occupational health and safety, and she is eager to share what she learned with CUPE members.

Although she no longer works in the field because of her involvement in the health and safety committee, she is available to her colleagues to listen and to offer support.

“I would like to be a support person for workers, especially for women,” she says. “When possible, I try to meet with them so that they know they are supported and heard.”

Anne’s interest in occupational health and safety developed while she was a union counsellor and a member of the CUPE Quebec human rights committee.

“Occupational health and safety and human rights share a number of issues – for example, psychological harassment,” she says.

She sees the establishment of a procedure for working with asbestos as one of the major victories of the occupational health and safety committee. Underground workers are sometimes required to handle asbestos-covered wires. The health and safety committee discussed this issue with the employer, and a safe technique was developed for the removal of the material. Employees now must undergo specialized training before working with asbestos.

The efforts of the union have also lead to a gain in workplace equality with regard to parental leave. Previously, although women on maternity leave or parental leave continued to accrue seniority, men on parental leave did not.

With the support of CUPE, Local 1500 was able to improve its collective agreement so that men and women accrue seniority equally when on parental leave.