Sun. Apr 18th, 2021

PINK SHIRT DAY: Dealing with bullying and harassment in …

PINK SHIRT DAY: Dealing with bullying and harassment in …

Northern labour organizations in the city have long supported Pink Shirt Day as a way to symbolize the need to show zero tolerance toward harassment and bullying in workplaces and beyond.

In past years, there have been large gatherings at the Great Hall of the Legislative Assembly, however this year it will not be taking place as large gatherings are prohibited by Covid-19 public health restrictions.

Still, GNWT workers – both unionized and non-unionized – are being encouraged to wear pink to mark anti-bullying.

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, says the addition of Article 51 of the latest Collective Agreement with the GNWT ensures that there are additional supports for members experiencing harassment, abuse of authority and workplace violence.
NNSL file photo

In recent weeks NNSL Media has reported on high-profile complaints within GNWT workplaces that have involved instances of alleged harassment.

A new article in the latest GNWT collective agreement provides clearer language and additional safeguards for unionized GNWT employees in the workplace, especially in the cases when they experience bullying, abuse of authority and workplace violence, according to Todd Parsons, president of the Union Northern Workers (UNW). 

“One of the benefits of being a union member is you have designated people to turn to for guidance, support or assistance, as well as collective agreement language that can be negotiated to provide more protections for workers,” Parsons explained.

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Known as Article 51, the clause spells out an agreement between the union and the employer stipulating that members are to be “free from all forms of harassment, workplace violence and abuse of authority.

“The union and employer agree that workplace violence, harassment and abuse of authority are unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the workplace,” the agreement states. 

PSAC North has been involved in the organization of Pink Shirt Day and has marked it in the past as a way to “start a conversation” about how bullying and harassment are unacceptable in the workplace or anywhere, said Jack Bourassa, regional executive vice-president for PSAC North. He added that victims of bullying and harassment, including in workplaces, must be provided support and politicians have to be held to account.
photo courtesy of PSAC North

One Northern labour observer, who requested anonymity, stated that the gains made through Article 51 were “significant” and added to the scope and definition of what had been recognized as harassment in the past, namely relating to sexual harassment.

“The avenues for people who are not unionized right now are going to be the oversight of the GNWT,” the individual said. “A unionized person may have more in the collective agreement than any other act.”

Parsons said the union would like to see legislation that would help both union and non-union workers within the GNWT report issues of workplace bullying and harassment in a safe manner. 

“The government of the time talked about bringing in safe disclosure legislation following that, which would apply to all government workers, including excluded employees,” he said. “The UNW is curious to know why that wasn’t followed through.”

UNW members are encouraged to reach out to a union representative if there are issues of workplace harassment or bullying, Parsons stated.

Legislative Assembly under scrutiny

Parsons was asked about workers at the Legislative Assembly, where a third-party investigation is underway due to allegations of workplace harassment against house clerk Tim Mercer. 

Parsons said because employees at the assembly are excluded from the UNW’s bargaining unit, they are not union members. As a result, the union boss declined to comment on the non-union workplace setting.

He pointed out, however, that UNW members have more options.

“While there are some avenues available for excluded employees (like Legislative Assembly employees) to seek recourse, such as WSCC or the NWT Human Rights Commission, unfortunately, non-unionized workers are left to navigate those processes on their own if they don’t have access to their own legal counsel,” Parsons said. 

There are 30 excluded employees in the Office of the Clerk, according to the Legislative Assembly.

Mercer told NNSL Media in a Feb. 15 email that employees at the Legislative Assembly – like are all public service workers – are governed by the GNWT Workplace Harassment Policy.

The policy spells out various forms of harassment, including personal and sexual harassment and abuse of authority. It also explains the methods that all GNWT employees can use to complain to their employer about mistreatment.

“Harassment in any form is unacceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated,” the policy states. “The GNWT is committed to providing a work environment where there is respect among employees and to facilitating the resolution of workplace harassment complaints.”

Pink Shirt Day through PSAC

Public Service Alliance of Canada North regional executive vice-president Jack Bourassa said in an email this week that his organization has marked Pink Shirt Day every year as a way to symbolize the need to combat bullying and harassment.

Jack Bourassa, regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada North, said Pink Shirt Day attempts to raise awareness about bullying and harassment in the workplace and beyond.
NNSL file photo

“Participating in the Pink Shirt Day helps start conversations of why we need to put an end to bullying in our communities, schools, workplaces and everywhere,” Bourassa stated. “It also provides a message of support to victims. 

“There must zero tolerance towards bullying, harassment and violence at work, school or anywhere in our communities. And to the victims, our message is: you’re not alone. There is help and support.”

Covid-19 has exacerbated matters, he added.

“With the current situation due to the pandemic, harmed individuals and victims might feel more isolated,” he said. “It’s more important than ever for victims to know that they’re not alone.

“A lot has to be done to ensure accountability. Bullying is a crisis that must be dealt with (with) urgency,” said Bourassa. “Also, our politicians need to take bullying more seriously and enact meaningful legislation.” 

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Published at Wed, 24 Feb 2021 08:30:00 +0000

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