Open letter to Peter Wallace regarding ASMP

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Mr. Wallace I feel the need to address a major concern with you directly rather than “let my concerns work their way through the system”.

I am writing today about the just to be implemented Attendance Support Management Program (ASMP) in a couple of ServiceOntario branches.  I am doing so because I have several concerns that I need to have addressed, and as you basically should be considered the ultimate decision maker in matters that pertain to the OPS.

I am asking you to let those whom you have oversight for, know that you are listening and will consider what is shared with you in a manner that truly reflects the values of the OPS.  They should know that you would fight to uphold and work to promote those values from the top down, to truly give them meaning and substance.

I will start by stating that I understand the need to address absenteeism in any workplace.  It is recognized as a drain on businesses and our economy.  I know that there are often areas of concern and that those situations need to be addressed.  So from that point of view, I am on your side.  However, I will state that the method proposed here gives me great reason to be concerned.

The program as laid out in the Employee’s Guide, though it thoroughly lays out the “process” on how to deal with any employee who has an absence, has totally ignored two main points.

  1. Point #1 is that in no way does the program provide any information or substance on the “support” that will be given to employees.
  2. Point #2 is that nowhere in the documentation does it recommend what the employer will do to help deal with workplace causes of and contributors to illness.

In the matter of the first point it does not in any way present from the employer how it will help employees with maintaining good health.  As you know, stating that you expect any type of behavior modification is generally not going to be successful unless you partner with the employee (and we truly are partners in the workplace) and help them by understanding their situation and providing assistance rather than just a plan of action that states:

Non-Culpable or Innocent Absenteeism

Refers to absences that arise due to an Employee’s involuntary condition. Such absences are not dealt with through discipline. Rather, they are dealt with by coaching the Employee through the ASMP; however such absenteeism may ultimately result in the termination of the employment. (my emphasis added)

A well known and well documented fact of workplaces, is the cost of preventative measures in maintaining a healthy workplace is far less than the cost of dealing with all staff absences and related issues.[1]  There are many studies that attest to this and three links are provided about such studies.

Such ideas in management the public’s money should not be discounted out of hand but reviewed fairly and openly in a cooperative manner by all parties.  The employer disregards this fact at their own peril.

This of course leads me to the second point of concern.  Nowhere does this document reflect the role that the employer plays in “making people sick”.  Let me expand on that for you.  When you create a work environment that does not respect people’s needs and rights and when you create a work environment that sets them up for failure.  When you sustain a work environment that causes people to be fearful all the time, you are creating and sustaining conditions that will lead to health problems in some and possibly many people.  When those actions are perceived as being deliberate, such as purposely maintaining unreasonably low staffing levels in the name of savings, purposely allowing negative work atmospheres in the name of production, purposely creating an environment that will be poisoned literally and emotionally in the workplace, you cannot hold people accountable for something that is beyond their control.

The program as laid out in your documentation will greatly contribute to those whom are not your targeted group being exposed to a potentially very sick and unhealthy internal environment (and with shared buildings – maybe not even in MGS/SO).

Think about this.  When you let people know, as quoted above, that even innocent absences can result in loss of employment, the net result will be much higher attendance rates, but with a group of employees who are not healthy enough to actually be at work.  People will drag themselves into work at time when for their own health they most certainly should not do so (including those suffering from injuries and illness or disease or disabilities) and in many cases they will be contagious to others.  They will do so because they do not want to risk the implied threat of progressing through this program.  The workplaces for the target units/branches will become hotbeds of germs, viruses and other sources of illness.   Will the employer guarantee the employees that they will regularly and thoroughly disinfect and sanitize the workplace in order to minimize the risk to others (including their own managers)?

Staff will be putting themselves at further risk for health problems and certainly exposing many innocent people to a whole host of illnesses and issues that are best kept out of the workplace.  They will do so out of fear and concern for their jobs and their families.  They will be doing things that they would never have done at any time before just because they are being bullied into it.

Okay so I have used the term bullied, and I have done so for a reason.  When someone is forced into a course of action that is against their will, better judgment and out of fear, I do not know of any better way to describe it.  When there is a set of circumstances created by anyone that can lead to others suffering harm and illness just to make a point, without thought or concern for their well-being, I think that term applies here too.  Who else but a bully would, in their effort to have their way and make a point, put innocent people at risk of infection, illness and possibly even injury as well and then declare that they don’t care what a world-wide recognized medical body says (the World Health Organization) or what a recognized and esteemed medical professional recommends (the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario) in the event of a declared Pandemic, they will: “consider whether to suspend the ASMPP”.

Among the flaws of this plan are the above mentioned Health and Safety failures (failure to maintain a safe and healthy workplace for everyone) which I strongly feel is a violation of our collective agreement.

ARTICLE 9 – HEALTH AND SAFETY AND VIDEO DISPLAY TERMINALS

(FXT, SE)

9.1 The Employer shall continue to make reasonable provisions for the safety and health of its employees during the hours of their employment.

Also there is the failure to properly encourage staff to seek and get medical attention when they need it for their own safety.  The concern I have that overrides all others, is that this program will not first address the ways that the employer induces stress and contributes to health concerns among staff by not fixing problems of staffing, workload and existing poisoned work environments (including those caused by other members of the OPS) that are not properly dealt with and resolved.

With this program in place, I will no doubt have to assist with more WSIB claims, more WDHP complaints, more grievances and Human Rights complaints.  I am not confident that the employer’s statement that this program addresses collective bargaining rights and Human Rights completely is true.  I have a different point of view.

I hope you take these concerns put forward to you and spend time seriously considering the impact of this program on those staff who are just starting into it and any others whom may already be in workplaces where this has been implemented.  I hope that you consider them in the spirit in which they were presented to you and that some immediate positive response will be forth coming.

I leave you with the following thought:

“Management Response

Managers must act immediately upon becoming aware of potential policy violations, whether or not a complaint has been filed . . .”

Frank Wendling
President, OPSEU Local 468
Kingston, Ontario

Further documents:

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