Category Archives: Work Life

Going Postal, Part II

In light of another looming strike by Canada Post workers, it would appear that I am forced to scribble about this topic yet again. Several years ago Canada Post workers went on strike, delaying the delivery of flyers and junk mail across the country (along with the occasional parcel and bill.) The result? More Canadians realized just how little
they needed Canada Post. There are other mail delivery services which are much faster and more efficient (and yes, more expensive) – but the most significant change that many people made as a result of that strike was the conversion of their bills into electronic forms so that they no longer needed to wait for them to arrive in the mail. In other words, as a result of their last strike, far less Canadians rely on their services, further reducing the importance this crown corporation plays in the lives of the average citizen. And let’s face it, open up your mailbox on any given Sunday and what do you find? A wad of flyers, advertisements, unsolicited mail and junk. Once a month you’ll receive a bill if you haven’t already converted these to electronic delivery, and the rest usually goes straight into the garbage, recycle bin or fireplace. I once pondered the notion of subscribing to as many free junk mail services as possible to see if I’d receive enough free paper delivered to my door each day to heat my house in the winter. Unfortunately the paper that is used is not very dense so it does not produce a lot of heat, and contains a lot of dyes and chemicals that stink up the house when burned. After careful consideration I scrapped the idea.

Let’s look at another effect of the last strike. With fewer people using the services of Canada Post’s delivery service, the company was forced to make cuts to remain a viable business. One way they did this was the termination of door-to-door delivery across the country, replacing it instead with community mailboxes or “Superboxes” My neighborhood was built with superboxes already; our house does not even have a physical “mail box” on the building, which causes our weekly non-Canada-Post-flyer-delivery-guy to have to toss the bundle of paper I have to recycle onto our front step. Without having to go door to door to deliver mail, the remaining postal workers could cover MUCH more physical area in a given day, requiring far fewer of them to deliver the
same amount of mail and thus Canada Post reduced their workforce while still delivering the same amount of mail. Let’s review: Canada Post workers go on strike, and now there are less Canada Post workers. Take note, this is a pattern; If history teaches us nothing else it is that it repeats itself.

Canada Post had another cost-saving strategy they toyed with, and that was reducing the number of times in a week that delivery was made to the super boxes. Many people were behind this idea, because let’s face it – who among us actually goes to the mail box every day and checks for new mail unless they are expecting a package from eBay or Amazon? I for one, would be perfectly happy to receive mail once a week. My prediction for
this go round: Weekly delivery of mail will result if the workers go on strike again, further cutting their work force.

Safety – Call It What It Is

Almost any company these days has a safety department, committee, branch, or division. Sometimes entire armies of inspectors and supervisors travel to sites waving the banner of “Safety First”, “Zero Lost Time Incidents”, “Safely Home”, “Journey to Zero”, and many other such slogans. Carrying clipboards and making sure all the workers are wearing the appropriate personal protection equipment and performing job tasks correctly, they also will almost certainly ask to see your hazard assessment documentation. Managing safety has become an industry unto itself. My current employer retains two full time staff tasked exclusively with safety matters, in addition to a safety committee of a dozen or so “volunteers” at each physical plant site.

At one of my previous employments I myself was tasked with being the Safety Manager for the facility of some 200 workers, responsible for making sure the workplace was as safe as was reasonably possible.

I am always suspicious whenever someone’s paid job is to look out for my best interest; those two motivations are in polar contradiction with each other. Generally speaking, no company is going to pay out cash to look after the best interests of an employee, unless those best interests are first serving the company’s best interests. So let’s look at Safety through this lens and call it what it really is: Liability Reduction Management.

If you get hurt on the job, you must file a claim with the Worker’s Compensation Board, who themselves launch an investigation into the incident that lead up to your injury. If they find that your employer did not take reasonable steps to ensure that your workplace and the activity you are expected to do as part of your line of work was safe, they can be held liable to cover the medical expenses of your recovery and in some cases, compensation for any losses pertaining to the nature of the injury. Safety staff are your company’s answer to this situation, tasked not with making sure that you are safe, but with ensuring that the company cannot get sued or fined should anyone on their payroll get injured on the job. It’s as simple as that.

So why the title of Safety? It’s a facade – a sugarcoating to make the situation more palatable to those being harassed by employees who are extensions of the company’s legal department with the power to send you home or even terminate you for lack of compliance with their liability mitigating strategies, aka “Safety Policies”.

Safety = Scapegoat.

The entire safety movement revolves around the idea of making the employee liable for their own actions. Make no mistake – I am not against this concept – I believe that every person ought to stand or fall by the decisions they make, but sometimes those decisions can affect other people. Just call it what it is.

Say two employees are working together on something inside a ceiling in an office building. They have a ladder, are wearing steel toed boots and safety glasses. The fellow at the bottom of the ladder even holds the ladder steady and ensures that no one collides into the base of it so that the fellow in the ceiling can concentrate on the tasks he is to perform. Now let’s say that while the employee is working on top of the ladder, a tool falls out of his hand and lands on the employee’s head who is holding the ladder below.

Enter: An Incident.

The safety officer for the company attends the site, interviews both employees and surveys the area in which the incident took place. He concludes that although they had taken some steps towards working safely given the environment, he notes that their hazard assessment did not include “things falling from above” and also that the employee below was not wearing a hard hat (even though this is an office building where hats are considered rude) and therefore – did not follow the company’s safety policy and therefore … drumroll … the company is not liable with the Worker’s Compensation Board because, to put it bluntly, it was his own damn fault.

It is all about liability mitigation; passing the buck from the employer to the employee. And I’m fine with that, but please – call it what it is.

Do It Yourself

One year during tax season, I was gathering all my papers to send to my accountant when I realized that my T4 was nowhere to be found. A procrastinator at heart, this was only a few days before the annual tax deadline, but I have an awesome accountant who is used to my last-minute requests. I searched all my folders, checking to see if it possibly got misfiled, but when I succumbed to defeat, I went the following day and visited the HR department of the company I work at. “Oh it’s easy.” the lady from HR informed me. “Just go online and you can get any of the information you need.” She gave me the web site address, and so I went about my day. That evening when I got home, I sat down at the computer to try this online approach. Registering for an account was quite a lengthy process, demanding all sorts of tidbits of specific information I did not have at the ready. When all was said and done, my new account was created and I foolishly imagined myself a few clicks away from the last piece of documentation I would need to send my package off to the accountant. Then the web site informs me that for security reasons, they must MAIL me a top secret decoder ring code before I can use their web site. Naturally, this would take 7-10 days business days to arrive, and thus there was no way I’d make the tax deadline.

I returned to the HR department and reported my misadventure to the lady, who then suddenly remembered the mailing requirement. Suddenly very helpful, she now says “Here, I’ll go print your T4 for you” and returned a moment later with it in hand. I smiled and gave her a big “thank-you”, which could have been subtitled “… but why didn’t you just do that in the first place?” Sigh…