These Jobs Should be Good Jobs: Precarious workers at Statistics Canada fight for better working conditions

“We collect the data. We have an excellent work ethic. We make the employer look good. We need to be respected.” UNE Local 10021 president Alice Vallee was adamant at this autumn’s Statistical Survey Operations (SSO) bargaining conference that workers in SSO regional offices and field interviewers will be looking for respect at the bargaining table in the upcoming round of negotiations.

In the last round of bargaining, PSAC-UNE negotiators made significant progress, securing wage increase, and a process to make workers permanent after four or more years of contract employment.  Despite these gains, too many members remain precarious, with a lack of stability in hours and scheduling and low pay.

“We aren’t able to plan to do things like attend our kids’ games, or we have to leave unexpectedly, or arrive late,” said Nilesh. “I’m always on edge. It affects relationships - it affects my family. I can’t commit - or I can’t keep my commitments,” explained Nilesh Patel, a Vancouver-based field interviewer.

As if the instability in scheduling isn’t hard enough, Nilesh says that field interviewers are regularly exposed to dangerous situations as they enter private homes. They have no health and safety training. They aren’t taught how to diffuse difficult situations or how to assess potentially dangerous locations ahead of time. There is also no check-in & check-out procedure to ensure that the employer knows when and where they are. Nilesh always assesses buildings before he enters. “I wear boots because I don’t know what kind of hazards I might encounter in a hallway - needles, glass, and so forth.” 

Phyllis Allen, who has been with SSO in Hamilton for twenty years, raised additional concerns. She has seen reductions in work with the government’s move to electronic surveys and an increased reliance on administrative data instead of on-site assessments. In an attempt to compensate for this reduction in work, more and more interviewers have moved from fieldwork to conducting social surveys from their own home.

Alice noted that these social surveys can be another workplace health and safety issue. “We are constantly monitored. Even if we have finished a very stressful call - maybe one that has brought up our own personal issues - we are expected to immediately make the next call - there is no time to process or settle ourselves.” 

Delegates to the conference mandated their SSO bargaining teams to make the fight for decent jobs and working conditions the top priority in the next round of negotiations. 

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November 18, 2019