Workplace challenges at the municipal level
We see municipal crews out around our cities each and every day. They are picking up garbage and recycling, repairing roads, maintaining sewers and landscaping our parks.
What we don’t see every day are the workplace issues many public sector employees are dealing with. Whether it’s an internal cultural issue or a taxpayer complaint that has turned hostile, municipalities are dealing with similar challenges that any other workplace is tackling on a daily basis.
If you are working in the public sector or private sector, employees are protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) and Human Rights Legislation. Both of these acts have outlined responsibilities for both employees and employers to help keep workplaces safe and healthy.
And while municipalities follow those same guidelines, they are faced with some additional challenges that other organizations and companies may not be exposed to.
- Elected officials
The OHS Act and Human Rights Legislation do not apply to elected officials. In Alberta, our elected representatives are governed by rules set out by current and past councils, all of which must conform to the province’s Municipal Government Act regulations.
Codes of Conduct are designed for elected officials to treat each other with respect, encourage teamwork and allow everyone to work for the collective good. While excellent in theory, it’s often grey in practice which is where workplace investigations come to play.
The Minister of Municipal Affairs has supervisory jurisdiction over municipalities and can remove elected officials who do not follow the rules, if necessary. This typically would happen after an extensive and properly conducted workplace investigation. The Mayor or Council Chair will also have powers regarding disciplining the elected official in breach.
- Unionized environments
The structure of a union may sound complex; however, when it comes to workplace investigations — especially in the public sector — it can make the process simpler.
Everyone is bound to the rules laid out in a collective agreement within an unionized environment. Each member’s responsibility is to read that agreement and understand the rules they must follow before they sign on the dotted line. These agreements all have a structure which includes a reporting process.
Anyone who feels they have a workplace issue takes it to a union official, and the union makes a complaint to the municipality. It’s how they ensure managers are held accountable. There are clear rules about the responsibility of giving notice, the right to respond and the right to your reasons.
While the workplace investigation isn’t more complex, there is an external element at play that brings a different dynamic. It’s possible for a workplace investigation to get wrapped up in union negotiations, bargaining and other provincial issues. Maintaining a fair, independent and properly conducted investigation remains a priority.
- Lack of capacity
The cost of the work done by public servants is visible. When taxes go up, homeowners notice and complain. It means the most attention and funding is directed to delivering services to benefit ratepayers — it’s what is in the public eye.
So when budget time comes and the red pen comes out, Human Resources is often the first place to be cut. Resources are stretched thin and the capacity to ensure employees are adequately protected in the workplace can be compromised.
Municipal governments are best when their foundations are strong. Properly conducted investigations help keep foundations strong because employees feel heard and their health, safety and well-being are being looked after.
To learn more how Method is working with municipalities to provide investigation and mediation support, reach out.