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OPSEU speaks out about NPCA’s unhealthy workplace

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For the past couple of years, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) has been at the centre of a great deal of public controversy. The NPCA has been accused of improper use of public funds, disrespect for the democratic rights of citizens, and a pro-development bias that is ignoring environmental concerns in a region that has already lost 90 per cent of its wetlands.

The public turmoil swirling around the NPCA is matched by a difficult and unhealthy workplace environment.

In early 2017, the OPSEU health and safety unit contacted Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) for assistance with a survey of employees at the NPCA. The purpose of the survey was to determine whether workplace conditions at the NPCA were associated with impacts on employee health.

OHCOW is a multidisciplinary health clinic funded by Ontario's Ministry of Labour. OHCOW proposed that OPSEU use a survey based on the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire (COPSOQ), which the union conducted from March 28 to April 9, 2017.

The survey was completed by 86.5 per cent of frontline staff and middle management. As a result of this very strong response rate, the findings are statistically accurate. Senior managerial staff were not surveyed.

Top issues

  • Eighty-seven (87) per cent of respondents agreed that the organization tolerates behaviour that is harmful to mental health.
  • Eighty (80) per cent said they had witnessed offensive behaviours such as undesired sexual attention, threats of violence, bullying, and discrimination.
  • Almost 68 per cent said they had experienced bullying in the last year – more than twice the Canadian average of 31 per cent.
  • Sixty (60) per cent stated that staffing levels at the NPCA are inadequate for the workload.
  • Fifty-five (55) per cent of respondents described the workplace as "toxic." That is ten times the average rate among Canadian workers.
  • Over a third said senior management discriminated against employees because of union activity, favourtism, and/or gender.

In their responses to the survey, employees described a low-trust work environment characterized by a lack of fairness and a lack of job security – both of which were associated with negative health outcomes.

Creating a healthy workplace environment at the NPCA

Fronline staff at the NPCA want a workplace environment that is built on trust, fairness, mutual respect, and clear, transparent processes and policies. The union is asking the NPCA to work cooperatively with its employees and their bargaining agent to create that workplace. To begin that work, OPSEU has called on the NPCA to acknowledge the validity of the survey results, and agree to participate in a joint employer-union steering committee to develop concrete strategies for moving forward.

Further, OPSEU is calling on all stakeholders – area municipalities and MPPs, the NPCA Board of Directors, and concerned citizens – to support the transformation that the NPCA so desperately needs.

We sent the results of the OHCOW survey to the following people:

  • All NPCA Board members
  • All Niagara Regional Council members
  • All Haldimand County Council members
  • All Hamilton City Council members
  • All MPPs in the NPCA catchment area

We are asking NCPA Board members to direct their senior management team to take the steps needed to address the unhealthy workplace the NPCA has become.

We are asking the municipal and regional councillors who appoint NPCA Board members to encourage them to demand accountability from NPCA senior management for their refusal to adequately address their unhealthy workplace.

We are asking area MPPs to support MPP Cindy Forster's call on the provincial government to temporarily appoint a supervisor to oversee operations at the NPCA in order to restore accountability and trust – not only between management and staff, but between the NPCA and the public.

For more information about health and safety issues at the NPCA, please contact Terri Aversa, OPSEU Health and Safety Officer, at taversa@opseu.org.