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Not just a pandemic problem.

by Dawn,

I am middle management in IT and have been working from home for 20 years. As a salaried manager, I am expected to do whatever is necessary to keep the work stream moving, and that includes unpaid off hours labour. While there is a LOT of talk about work/life balance and supporting mental health, it lip service and left to the individual to self manage despite the unyielding incoming work stream. I have been able to push a boundary for the right to disconect, but not without resistance and only have the agency to do that because I am considered indespensible and that gives me power to push back and I know how to do that because I am practiced at it. When people are junior, are WFH for the first time, have performance anxiety because they are contending with things like home schooling and chronic stress and worry about the quality of their work, they are not in the position required to assert boundaries. And despite the messaging given to team leaders that it is on us to maintain employee wellbeing we are thwarted constantly. I might model good behaviour, demand people log off and try to push back on incoming work. But the organizations "get it done" messaging is too loud to drown out, and upper management nods at me, but then go around me to engage my team directly.

It is important to note that this situation has always existed in both WFH and office environments, the pandemic has only intensified it, empowering exploitation when large volumes of people had to learn the skillset at once, and while trying to manage the chronic stress of the pandemic. Knowledge work environments are often extremely exploitative. My company has also accelerated the pace of work during the pandemic, using the criticality of our industry (telecom) to pandemic to justify increasing the funnel while not increasing staff.

As a side note, though this inquiry is looking at important labour issues, it is extremely disconcerting that it does not intend to include the rights of essential service workers (grocery, pharmacy, agricultural, food industry, including both Canadian and migrant labour). The pandemic has revealed the stark reality, danger and exploitation endemic to these industries and how that exploitation is a public health crisis for virus spread. Workplace safety, the right to paid sick leave, the right to refuse dangerous working conditions for these workers is a critical point of inquiry that deeply need protections in the Canadian Labour Code.

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