OHS Canada Magazine

Children’s Aid Society employees on strike for safer work conditions

Report in 2014 examined worker safety, made recommendations


(Canadian OH&S News) — Workers with the Children’s Aid Society of the Region of Peel (CAS), the agency for child services for the Peel Region near Toronto, are striking to get better work conditions — including improved safety.

The strike began officially on Sept. 18, after Local 4914 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) unanimously rejected the employer’s “final offer” in ongoing contract negotiations, according to a news release from the union. At 7 a.m. on the following day, unionized employees established picket lines outside the CAS headquarters in Mississauga, stopping motorists arriving at or leaving the offices to give them information about workers’ grievances.

“Our residential staff probably experience physical aggression on a daily basis,” said CUPE Local 4914 president Sonia Yung. “Our workers face verbal threats, physical threats.”

CAS workers who visit client residences often deal with special-needs children who may not understand their own behaviours or what triggers them, Yung added. “You don’t know what home you’re walking into. You don’t know if the client is experiencing any sort of addictions issues, any sort of mental-health issues.”

She elaborated that part of the problem in Peel is that children’s aid workers have come to accept violence and threats as something that comes with the territory. “Part of what we need to do as employers, as unions, is to educate people about the fact that violence should never be a normal part of any job,” she said.

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“What we’d like to see is at the front end, before someone even goes out, that there’s some real thought and planning that goes into making sure that when the worker goes out, they do so in a safe way.”

CAS chief executive officer Rav Bains told COHSN that the organization treats worker safety as its top priority.

“We have a very strong health and safety committee, which is made up of union and management staff, and we have over 100 health and safety policies,” said Bains, adding that he could not recall any major violent incidents against CAS workers in the recent past.

“They haven’t, to be honest, given a lot of examples of what they’re actually saying are the issues,” he said about the strikers.

CUPE wants the CAS to accept the findings of a 2014 study by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), which examined the safety situation among the province’s children’s aid societies and made a series of recommendations. “All the other agencies have accepted the findings of this report,” said Yung.

Bains said that the report had resulted from a joint initiative by the union, the OACAS and the provincial government — an initiative that is still in progress. “It is still going through a number of committees in the OACAS. We’re absolutely committed to taking that report to our joint health and safety committee,” he explained. “But it’s very difficult to sign off on something that we haven’t even seen.”

He also claimed that there was a common misconception that other children’s aid organizations in the province had signed off on all the recommendations. “That is inaccurate,” he said.

Yung countered that the union merely wanted Bains to have the joint health and safety committee discuss the recommendations and how to implement them. “In no way is the language on the table about accepting the recommendations,” she said about the negotiations. “I’m not sure if it’s just him being misinformed, or if it’s just an outright way to divert attention from what we’re requesting.”

She added that all children’s aid workers face the same safety risks, but that “this employer isn’t willing to acknowledge the truth of it.”

In the meantime, the CAS has initiated a contingency plan that it has developed to continue providing essential services while workers are picketing.

“We have qualified managers, we have qualified people,” said Bains, “making sure that the most vulnerable and the highest cases are absolutely being served.”