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Public sector workplaces have been restructured and cut back. Staff levels are lower; demands are higher. CUPE members are expected to work quicker with fewer resources. As a result, hazards to our health and safety are more acute than ever. Whats worse, some of the systems designed to protect us such as joint union/employer health and safety committees dont work as intended.

Employers and some governments are pushing warm and fuzzy health and safety committees with too much back-scratching and not enough change. Inactivity, loss of member control, and a general decline in standards have pushed CUPE members to say Enough! Across the country, many are fighting back, reasserting control over their health and safety.

In todays restructured workplaces, stress is a serious health and safety hazard. While stress is now part of our everyday language and lives, workplace stress shouldnt be tolerated as part of the job.

A recent International Labour Office study of workers in Finland, Germany, Poland, Great Britain and the United States found that one in ten people suffer from workplace stress. In some cases, unemployment or hospitalization was a direct result.

Workplace stress is caused by and made worse by work. It affects members health on and off the job. Overwork, lack of control and decision-making, job insecurity, harassment, fear of accidents and illness, physical hazards, and surveillance monitoring are just a few of the causes. Stress

has different effects: fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, feelings of powerlessness and depression, increased use of alcohol and drugs, memory loss and strained relations with co-workers and family.

Key to reducing stress is to take back control. If you have more control over the job you do, how you do it, and when you do it, stress levels go down. Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace and that includes eliminating stress.

Closely linked to workplace stress is overwork. Longer hours, faster work paces, unreasonable demands, inadequate staff and resources to do your job well, feelings of being overwhelmed and snowed under; these are all overwork issues. So is unpaid time spent trying to catch up, working through breaks, and more overtime. Overwork, like stress, can lead to burnout and make workers more vulnerable to accidents and illness. Members must be able to say Enough! and refuse excessive workloads.

Violence has become a growing concern for CUPE members. Physical attacks, threats, verbal abuse, intimidation or psychological abuse and bullying are happening more often. The causes understaffing, working alone, inadequate training, client frustration can be prevented. A serious physical and psychological hazard, violence forces some members out of work for the rest of their lives. Violence, like stress and overwork, is also partly a result of cutbacks and restructuring. While employers dont regard violence as a health and safety issue, CUPE members must see it as a hazard and work to eliminate it.

Stress, overload, violence on the job theyre the reasons why CUPEs national health and safety committee is urging members to target joint health and safety committees. These union/employer committees are the place where CUPE members can regain control over our health and safety. We need to take workplace stress, overwork and violence issues to the joint committee table and make recommendations for concrete change.

The time is now ripe for CUPE members to push back. We have been restructured and cut into a corner. Its time to come out fighting, to reassert control over our workplaces, to protect our health and safety and preserve our dignity and well-being, said Pearl Blommaert, chair of the national health the national health and safety committee.

In February 2001, CUPEs 8th national health and safety conference in Montreal is an opportunity for CUPE members to revitalize their health and safety efforts. The conference will focus on taking back our joint committees to fight back against stress, overload and violence, and make real gains for our members. Control is the key. That and making our committees work for us. Its time for CUPE members to take back control of our health and safety.

Matthew Firth