N.S. unions call for workplace anti-violence legislation

'If you’re a worker in Nova Scotia, you are not protected.' - Joan Jessome


Halifax (16 Nov. 2006) - Four of Nova Scotia’s major public sector unions have called on the province's Tory government to adopt legislation to protect workers from violence on the job.

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE), Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union (NSNU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are working together as the Coalition Against Workplace Violence.

“If you’re a worker in Nova Scotia, you are not protected, under law, from workplace violence,” NSGEU President Joan Jessome told a news conference. “Draft regulations, developed jointly by labour and management representatives, have sat on a shelf now for over 11 years in this province.”

NSTU President Mary-Lou Donnelly pointed to the results of a random poll of 400 union members conducted by Vector Research for the coalition which shows the types and frequency of violence experienced by public sector workers is on the rise.

“Half the men and half the women in the four public sector unions surveyed were victims of workplace violence,” said Donnelly. “Some 85% of those polled reject the suggestion that there is no need for legislation because in certain jobs the risk of violence is just part of the job."

One in three workers affected

The poll data also shows that one in three members reported experiencing verbal threats, ridicule or harassment in that period. Compared with 29% of the public employees overall who experienced verbal threats or ridicule, 39% of the NSTU members polled reported experiencing that form of violent behaviour at work.

NSNU President Janet Hazelton said given the increase of workplace violence experienced by union members, it’s ironic that the government has introduced a piece of legislation to protect patients and residents in health settings from abuse, while ignoring workers.

“To proceed with provisions for patients and residents under the Protection of Persons in Care Act without providing similar protections for all workers, especially in health and community services, is doing half the job,” said Hazelton.

CUPE Nova Scotia vice-president Karen MacKenzie said, “Educating workers, employers and the general public that workplace violence is not part of the job is the main message of a public awareness campaign launched today by the coalition.”

The campaign includes a website www.stopworkplaceviolence.ca with an email petition, radio and print ads and posters.

No more delays

Jessome said the coalition met last week with a number of government ministers, deputy ministers and senior government staff to push for Workplace Violence Legislation or an amendment to the province’s current Occupational Health and Safety Act that would see workplace violence regulations become a part of the legislation.

“They told us they want to adopt the regulation after yet another round of consultation and then, work on implementation,” said Jessome. “However, after living through this long history of delay while at the same time seeing our members and other Nova Scotians experiencing an increasing likelihood of violence and intimidation in the workplace – that’s unacceptable.”

The union presidents said they will continue to pressure government until Workplace Violence Legislation is put in place. NUPGE