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May 26 2011

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Bullying on job should be treated as workplace violence, NSGEU says

By Pat Lee, The Chronicle Herald

While the province takes aim at cyberbullying among young people, one of Nova Scotia’s largest public sector unions is trying to get the word bully in workplace violence regulations.

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said Thursday the behaviour is currently labelled psychological harassment but it’s time to stop beating around the bush.

“It’s bullying, so let’s call it what it is,” she said at the NSGEU’s biennial convention being held in Halifax. “But adults don’t like to be called bullies and they don’t like to think they’re bullies.”

Jessome said labour groups have been trying for a number of years to get bullying labelled as a form of workplace violence but there has been resistance due to the pervasiveness of the problem.

“(The previous government) brought the (workplace violence) regulations in as long as we didn’t include the word bullying,” she said. “I was told, ‘Joan, it’s just too massive. It’s 90 per cent of the violence in the workplace.’”

But she said the Dexter government has been receptive to making the change.

The NSGEU, representing 29,000 government employees, launched an anti-bullying program last fall that provides free workplace workshops.

To date, about 4,400 people have gone through the program since October. Some employers, like the Capital district health authority, are making it mandatory.

Rick Clarke, head of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, also touted bullying as a serious problem.

“The bullies in the schoolyard today are the bullies in the workplace tomorrow,” he said in remarks to delegates.

Clarke spoke while sitting in a wheelchair. The long-time labour leader is recovering from a car accident that occurred on April 28 when he was heading to Lunenburg County.

Jessome also took the opportunity to let it be known that the next major round of contract negotiations coming up in the fall could be contentious if the province sticks to its four-year Back to Balance plan.

She said they will not be accepting one per cent wage increases and employees should expect to push back with “feet on the streets.”

Jessome, in her 12th year as president, is running unopposed for the position.

The 285 delegates, representing 85 locals, will be voting on 82 resolutions throughout the four-day convention that wraps up Saturday.

   
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