Introduction - The Changing Workplace
The Public Service Alliance of Canada strives for the best protection and working conditions for members that it represents. In doing so, the Alliance is cognizant of the accelerating changes to work patterns and has strived, through collective bargaining and other forums, to achieve flexibility for workers. The Alliance has negotiated flexible work patterns including compressed work arrangements, variable hours of work, and terms and conditions surrounding part-time work.
The Alliance recognizes the overall advantages technological change can bring. It has a desire that technologies, whether it be hardware, software or new work processes, not only allow workers to provide increased services and goods, but also provide benefits to workers. There is a potential to share in the productivity increases the technology offers.
Telework, a method of work whereby technology (laptop computers, home-based computers, modems, etc.) enables work to be performed away from central offices or production facilities, has been introduced as yet another work pattern or work reorganization which employers claim provides flexibility for workers. Telework enables the separation of the worker from the central office, eliminating face-to-face contact with colleagues and management. Telework usually takes place in the home, in satellite offices established away from the central office, or in transit where members travel to conduct interviews or gather information. Portable technology is the tool accelerating the reorganization of work and the proliferation of telework.
PSAC's Research with Respect to Telework
In the past two years, the PSAC has undertaken research into the area of telework, with a particular emphasis on work at home. Our research has added to the existing exploration of work undertaken in the home done by researchers including, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, Margaret Oldfield, author of "The Electronic Cottage - boon or bane for mothers", Alvin Toffler, author of "The Third Wave", Heather Menzies, author of "Fast Forward and Out of Control", Kathleen Christensen, author of "Women and Home-Based Work: The Unspoken Contract", and Linda Duxbury, author of "Balancing Work and Family: A Study of the Canadian Federal Public Sector".
Our research has reached many of the same conclusions other researchers in this field have reached. Some of these conclusions are:
- Over the past century, homework has resulted in a female-dominated work ghetto - examples include textile workers in Canada, non-unionized white collar women claims processors in Toronto and non-unionized textile, electronic data processing and assembly workers in the U.S. (some of whom lost their rights to unionization by working in the home).
- For the most part, PSAC members have worked at home because there isn't enough time at work to complete the heavy workload during the regular workday.
- Members will assume current employer-paid costs - examples: furniture, hydro, telephone (except long distance).
- Working at home is often an individual coping mechanism to solve larger social policy problems.
The Alliance's Position Regarding Telework
The Alliance does not support telework as an individual response to larger social policy issues. Having taken that position, the Alliance recognizes that for some members, those who would be unable to work other than from their home, telework offers the only alternative of paid labour.
Therefore, the PSAC does not stand in the way of telework as a means of maintaining a job. However, there are too many concerns and there is a large amount of historical evidence that makes it clear that telework is a low-wage, low-capital cost employer initiative that serves the employer agenda of "more for less", but does little to provide a healthy alternative to workers' individual needs for flexibility and more leisure time.
The Alliance recognizes that some members will derive individual benefits from work at home - telework. Therefore, for members choosing to work at home, the Alliance's position is:
(a) Telework must be voluntary.
(b) Telework arrangements must not contravene the existing collective agreements and teleworkers must remain members of their respective bargaining unit.
(c) Offering telework must not replace the employers' legal and social obligations to promote employment equity within the workplace.
(d) With few exceptions, telework must not be done on a full-time basis. However, the Alliance recognizes that telework may provide a short-term solution for members with disabilities or with chemical sensitivities.
(e) Telework must not be used by management as a long-term solution to health and safety problems, nor should it be used by management to avoid its responsibility to provide and maintain a quality, safe and healthy workplace.
(f) Telework arrangements must not result in piece rates being introduced as a method of payment.
(g) Productivity level increases must not be a condition for teleworkers.
(h) Training for teleworkers must be provided to clarify the implications of working away from the central office. Those implications must include an awareness of consequences where in the employer's opinion, security is breached. Training for managers must be provided from the point of view of learning how to supervise teleworkers who work away from the central office.
(i) Hours of work for teleworkers must follow a consistent pattern that maintains similarity with the type of hours expected of non-teleworking colleagues and respects the integrity of the core hours collective agreement language.
(j) All overtime work must be authorized in advance, and remuneration provided as outlined in the collective agreement.
In order to achieve and develop the agenda with respect to Telework, the Alliance will undertake the following action:
- Local Tech Change Committees - All PSAC Locals will be encouraged to establish a Tech Change Committee for the purpose of developing a local plan of action to investigate, coordinate, and take action against adverse effects of technological change. The local plans could include surveys of the membership, monitoring and tracking the acquisition and installation of new technology, pressing for training and retraining for workers displaced by technology, submitting bargaining proposals regarding telework to Local bargaining committees, strategies to maintain contact with teleworkers, accessing education regarding tech change, meeting with management to monitor implementation of telework arrangements and consulting on a continuous basis with the union at a national level to ensure the integrity of national policies is protected and maintained.
- Local Tech Change Handbook - The PSAC will develop a handbook in support of Local Tech Change Committees to guide and assist committees to become established, and to address the various concerns and issues telework and other technological issues raise with respect to Health and Safety, Human Rights, Classification, Security, Productivity and Work Reorganization.
- PSAC Technological Change Component Advisory Committee - The Alliance and the Components shall continue to exchange information regarding technological change developments at the Technological Change Component Advisory Committee (TCCAC).
- Education - There are two elements to the education aspect of the plan. The first element is recognition that a telework weekend course has been developed. This weekend course will be offered to members, particularly those who telework, as part of regular Regional Office course scheduling. Alternate ways of delivering the weekend course will be considered (for example - teaching the weekend course over a consecutive number of evenings). The second element is the Member Instructor (MI) Telework module that has been developed. Member Instructors will develop a plan of action for their region to deliver the telework module to as many workplaces as possible, and actively involve members of Local Tech Change committees and members who telework.
- Collective Bargaining - Bargaining proposals currently developed as a result of the Alliance research on telework will be automatically included for consideration by bargaining committees, for all bargaining units where there is even a remote chance of the emergence of telework.
- Health and Safety - The PSAC will assess Health and Safety concerns of telework and secure the strongest protections possible for those members who choose to telework. The Alliance will push the employer to pay for ergonomic furniture for all teleworkers and, in the event of any occupational injury, will press Workers' Compensation Boards to cover teleworkers in the same manner as those who work in central offices.
- Human Rights - The PSAC will assess Human Rights implications of telework, including its use as a type of accommodation for workers with disabilities, and pressure the employer into providing a workplace accessible to all workers. The Alliance will not accept work at home where the sole result is to marginalize and exclude members with disabilities from the office environment.
- Electronic Bulletin Board - PSAC will develop an electronic bulletin board that will allow teleworkers, particularly those working at home with computers, to electronically access the union for general information.
- Shorter Work Week - The PSAC will continue to press for a shorter work week with no loss in pay or benefits, so the productivity gains made with the use of the technology can be shared with the unemployed by way of job creation.
- Canadian Labour Movement - The PSAC will continue to take a leadership role in the Canadian labour movement, and in particular, at the Canadian Labour Congress with respect to the issue of Technological Change.