Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BULLYING IN THE WORK PLACE: WHO FIGHTS FOR THESE EMPLOYEES



I did something last week that I have never done before.

No, I did not vote Conservative!

I up and quit a job, no notice, no nothing!

It was a part-time interviewer gig with a local market research company. Despite the rate of pay, I enjoyed the job as it provided me with a flexible schedule and a part-time income. Every dollar counts when you are trying to provide your children with extra-curricular opportunities.

One of the significant issues facing the industry is retention.  The pay is low, people come and go. The rewards are few. The result is garbage in-garbage out. Instead of creating an inviting atmosphere, these workplaces are often intimidating places for employees.. For those that depend on these jobs to put bread on the table and pay bills, the labor climate can be pre-industrial.

Recently, a number of internal initiatives under the guise of efficiency, created unnecessary friction which impacted retention and the quality of interviewers. The work atmosphere became polluted. I began to wonder about the seriousness of efforts to keep the staff that they invest in.

As I stated, it was a part time thing for me. A few hours on the evenings and weekends to feed the glutinous cash monster called children. For the most part, I ignored the daily going-ons and frustration of the staff. I punched in and punched out! Not my pig, not my far,

On a number of occasions, I requested that a couple of areas where pink fiber glass insulation was exposed be repaired and covered. Six months later, nothing changed.

Than last week, the final straw.  I came in early as is my practice to ensure I was refreshed and prepared for the night ahead. I was battling with a kidney stone(s), which is very uncomfortable and painful. The best that can be done is for me to drink plenty of water, take anti-inflammatories and the occasional Demerol for the pain.

Having drank my glass of water, I proceeded up stairs for another where I was told we are no longer permitted to leave our work stations (outside of breaks) for water during our shifts. It was suggested that I bring along a large water container.

To put this in context, I had already exceeded my Calls Per Hour for the entire shift, was in some pain and needed to keep up the volume of liquids to try and flush out the stone. Recently, management had replaced the water dispenser on the main floor with a new device connected to the tap upstairs.

If nothing else, this policy impacted performance. A tickle in the throat, a hoarse throat, a cough, a sore throat are all common in the call center environment.

It was the final straw. I thought about it. Why would any one subject themselves to this kind of abuse, unless you were stuck? I walked out the door. What kind of dehumanizing, degrading and insulting approach was this?

I wrote management explaining why I was leaving. It was my hope that that by speaking up, other staff who may not be able to speak out for fear of economic repercussions ,  would benefit through a change of approach.

A quick review of the Occupational Health and Safety regulations provided me with the letter of the law to back up my concerns:


Occupational Health and Safety Act  (O.C. 2012-005). Section 66 states:

 " An employer shall provide and maintain at suitable points conveniently accessible to all workers, an adequate supply of wholesome drinking water from a public main or other source approved by the appropriate health authority."

And Section 45. States:     

(1) An employer shall ensure that
             (a)  there is appropriate circulation of clean and wholesome air;
             (b)  there is adequate ventilation; and
(c)     impurities are made harmless and inoffensive

In a workplace in accordance with standards established by ASHRAE and ACGIH.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report in 1994 stating that fiberglass insulation  is “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen,”. Yet, staff in a crowded, poorly ventilated  room were forced to inhale fibreglass insulation fibers. When long, thin sharp fibers are inhaled, they can deeply penetrate  sensitive lung tissues and begin a process leading to emphysema, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), or cancer.

I had been considering raising the recent issues with the Human Rights Commission and Occupational Health and Safety. However, besides telling me that my “skills as a Survey Interviewer will be missed and we are sorry to lose you” the company revised the water policy and fixed the insulation issue.

As I said, I liked the job, but if you do not care about your people than it is not a place that I want to work.  


It is a rotten shame it took me quitting to influence how the company treats its employees.

 The bigger question, how many students and  members of the working poor are stuck with low paying jobs, similar situations and unable to fight for their basic rights in this booming economy?

How many people working in minimum wage jobs have to face constant criticism, excessive monitoring, denial of rights, abuse, coercion and threats to job security?  Phrases like "sweat shop" and "slave labour" are frequently used to describe such working conditions.

Everyone deserves to work in a safe environment.

* fixed grammar and reworked a paragraph.

3 comments:

MQO worker said...

I happen to work a MQO research and I disagree with the comments you are making. I feel that the work enviroment is great, especially considering some other min wage jobs.
I think you are taking your own personal frustrations out on a company that does not deserve this.
The research that is done there is important, as well a quality insurance. I do not think you truely understand what poor working conditions are like, I would know I worked in retail. I feel MQO does respect its employees, and just because they expected people to have water with them on their breaks, I mean that seems reasonble enough. What is so hard about having enough water with you?
What are you claiming to know how others feel about this workplace? some people actually like their job! and comparing are work to sweat shops, that is so disrespectful,and very uninformed, do you know what it's like to work in a sweat shop! overseas? I bet you don't, so stop bad mouthing a good company!

Peter L. Whittle said...

A quick note to the anonymous poster. I have not mentioned any names. If you want to resubmit your post with your name and not mention the company by name, I would gladly like to publish your comments.

Than we can discuss what you have to say!

Deal!

Peter L. Whittle said...

So where to start:

1. As I said, I enjoyed working there. Certainly had issues with the way some monitors berate staff on the floor as opposed to taking them aside to an office to discuss performance. Watching people get humiliated is not pleasurable.
2. My personal frustrations were the result of conflicts with the Occupational Heath and Safety regulations- not the work I was doing.
3. I think the research is important too. I enjoyed doing it. That is not the issue, is it?
4. It does not matter where you work in this province, there are laws that are designed to ensure workers rights to a safe environment, free from harassment and potential harm.
5. I understand your perspective. Considering your past work history, this is a good situation for you. That said, just because it is better than past experiences, it does not make my concerns uninformed. No matter how you justify it. You have a right under law to certain minimum expectations at the work place.
6. If you feel that breaching those rules is treating you with respect, than I have to question your perspective. In fact it goes to prove my point that the only reason one might put up with these conditions is because you have to. It might be better than your past retail job, but that does not justify the original water policy (since revised), the ongoing ventilation issues and the exposed fiber glass insulation (since fixed).
7. My quitting and subsequent letter of concern resulted in the water policy being revised and the insulation issue being addressed. If they care so much, as you claim, why did that have to occur? If they are interested in retention, why not reward your loyalty and good performance with a bigger piece of the profit. The cancellation of incentives, the stupidly worded water policy is all about maximizing province while exploiting the labour – yet you defend it.
8. I did not claim that that workplace was a sweatshop, re-read my post, I said that the episode made me wonder how many people are stuck in similar/worse situations and do not have the ability to advocate for themselves. In Canada, we have rules. Workers have rights.
9. I hope that you pointed out your comment to my blog to management. I hope that you are rewarded for your fidelity.
10. I think you deserve more respect from your employer You are loyal, you do good work.