“The role of the union is to support, make recommendations and serve as a resource,” says Anne Filiatrault, member of CUPE Local 1500 and the Quebec provincial occupational health and safety committee.
Anne works for Hydro-Québec as an underground cable splicer, a traditionally male-dominated occupation. She recently completed an FTQ training course on myths and union challenges concerning women in relation to occupational health and safety. She looks forward to sharing what she has learned with fellow CUPE members.
Although her duties on the provincial occupational health and safety committee mean she no longer works in the field, she strives to let her co-workers, including women, know that she is there to listen to them and support them.
“I would like to be a support person, especially for women workers,” she says. “When possible, I try to meet with them so that they know they are supported and heard.”
Anne’s interest in occupational health and safety goes back to her experience in the role of union counsellor and as a former member of the provincial human rights committee.
“There are a lot of issues that overlap both occupational health and safety and human rights – for example, psychological harassment,” she explains. She says the human rights committee tackles human rights issues like harassment which are also covered under health and safety legislation.
Anne describes a major victory achieved by the occupational health and safety committee: the establishment of a procedure for working with asbestos. Underground workers are occasionally required to handle asbestos-covered wires. This hazard was addressed with the employer in the occupational health and safety committee, which developed a safe technique for asbestos removal. Employees now have to undergo specialized training before they can work with asbestos.
The union’s efforts have also led to improvements in workplace equality with regard to parental leave, she says.
Previously, when women went on maternity or parental leave, they continued to accrue seniority, but men taking parental leave did not. With the union’s support, the local was able to negotiate changes to the collective agreement to ensure that women and men accrue seniority equally while on parental leave.