The Canadian Union of Public Employees welcomes this opportunity to comment on Bill C-65 and present our recommendations to this committee for consideration.
CUPE is Canada's largest union, representing 650,000 members across Canada. We have federally regulated workers in communications, energy and transportation such as airlines, light rail and ports.
I represent the Airline Division of CUPE with over 12,000 unionized flight attendants.
I know the work environments of CUPE members expose them to numerous work-related hazards, most of which are well regulated. However, in spite of the demands of their work environment, which we strive to handle, workers should never be exposed to violence in the workplace whether in the form of verbal threats, harassment, physical violence, or sexual aggression and violence.
The close working environment, the occupational power hierarchy, and the spectrum of violence create a complex multi-dimensional issue, which will require close attention to ensure a process is developed that will respect principles of justice, human rights, equality, and privacy in the application of our health and safety laws.
CUPE strongly supports the government's renewed efforts on violence prevention, especially the often overlooked sexually related violence, and would like to echo the positive aspects of this bill as have been expressed by our colleague.
However, as was hinted at earlier, different types of violence will require different solutions, and while aspects of Bill C-65 provide positive steps towards facilitating safe and accountable workplaces and the prevention of violence, CUPE strongly believes that some of the proposed changes will have the opposite effect in the workplace.
Limiting the role of health and safety committees will, in the view of CUPE, lead to a chilling effect on reporting and increase the opportunity for all workplace violence, including systemic harassment, sexual violence, and assaults, to remain unaddressed.
As a case in point, sexual harassment and assaults on women within the airline industry are common experiences for our members. Heavy-handed management tactics, flawed policies, and flight crew power dynamics cause our flight attendants to be very hesitant to report. Frequently, members will come to us for help but wish to remain anonymous. In our experience, it's not only the shame of being a victim that keeps them from coming forward; it's the fear of reprisals. Even after we explain how we can help protect them, they are reluctant to go through the process for fear of experiencing victim shaming and blaming, having to face their aggressor, and potentially losing their job as a result of a poorly conducted investigation. They have no faith in the system's ability to protect them from traumatization and further abuses. In fact CUPE members have, in the past, reported incidents to the union but have prevented the union from moving forward for fear that they will lose their job or that their eligibility for promotion would be reduced.
Ensuring that workers do not experience reprisals from their employer when they report violence, allowing them access to their health and safety committees if they want it, and building in support and transparency for complainants are crucial factors in reducing barriers to reporting.
The role of health and safety committees is therefore, in the view of CUPE, essential for incidents of sexually based harassment and violence.