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Labour Views: Listen to your workers

Sep 14, 2022

A common frustration we hear from union members experiencing workplace issues, is a lack of meaningful engagement from senior management. Concerns that are brought forward are ignored, and members feel that senior management is more concerned with protecting its own than solving the problems in the workplace.

Some employers hide behind plans, strategies, and policies that they say are informed by “engagement with stakeholders”, but it’s not always clear who those stakeholders are, and whose interests they represent.

When employers repeatedly blindside workers and their unions with announcements and policies -- without consultation or even advance notice -- it makes you wonder how that employer defines "engagement".

When new workplace policies or initiatives are introduced, we often hear the line “what we’ve heard…” stated in staff meetings, media releases, and executive summaries, as though saying an employer is listening is equivalent to doing something.

Words without concrete action are not meaningful, and unilateral decision-making is not engagement.

What we see too often, is workplace plans, strategies, and policies falling flat because their creators are too far removed from the workers. Some employers try to shift blame for this failure to the workers by attacking their union, or cover their tracks by finding ways to divide workers in order to weaken their collective power.

Toxic management practices that encourage workers to focus on themselves rather than the collective, also chip away at the solidarity that gives workers their strength and voice.

A union is the channel for that voice, and union leadership, Local executives, union reps, committee members, and bargaining teams represent our members during discussions with an employer. A union’s presence and engagement help ensure that any policies introduced into a workplace are fair and equitable and don’t single out one group of workers over another.

When things like bonuses or additional benefits aren’t considered equitably within a workplace, it leads to workers who are excluded from these benefits feeling unappreciated. These workers are then more likely to look for new employment. Job vacancies then trigger extra stresses on other employees and the people they serve, as well as management.

Unions are always open to meeting with employers to discuss issues and work to find solutions. It’s why we exist! When employers are willing to work with unions, the workers and the public they serve are the winners. When there is a lack of trust or willingness to cooperate, everybody loses.

By including unions in decisions that directly affect workers, employers have a direct pipeline to what their workers are thinking and feeling. To exclude a union from any meaningful engagement is to exclude the voice of the workers, and that voice is rising – across the country and around the world.

The pandemic created a moment for many workers to realise and appreciate their worth. That moment is turning into a movement, and workers are finding their voice and choosing to prioritize work-life balance and mental health along with living wages and economic security.

Employers who maintain the status quo and ignore the suggestions of their workers will find it very difficult to retain or recruit qualified workers.

As workers, it is important to not get complacent or discouraged. We need make our voices heard and be active in our unions if we want employers to take our concerns seriously.

To create real change, workers need to stand together and take advantage of our collective power. A union’s strength rests in members supporting members.

We also need to stand in solidarity with all workers and unions who are fighting for fair wages and better working conditions. By lifting each other up, we raise the bar for everyone. We can create an environment where employers are not only forced to listen, but to meaningfully engage with their workers.