Impossible workloads in the government services sector are taking a mental and physical toll on workers. Let’s fight for change at the bargaining table next year.
Things are bad – like really bad – when it comes to the impossible workloads, untenable hours and short-staffing crisis faced by many workers in Alberta.
While many members are passionate about providing high-quality services to Albertans, like health care, social services, education, emergency management and public service, many workers are experiencing and showing signs of burnout.
According to a recent study by Statistics Canada, at least 20 per cent of the employed population – or four million people – experienced “high or very high levels of work-related stress” across the country. It also reported the most common cause of job-related stress was a heavy workload, which affected nearly a quarter of workers.
For AUPE members, these aren’t just statistics: you live this reality every day.
AUPE Vice-President Bonnie Gostola says she hears the stories from members across all sectors. The main message: Alberta has not fully recovered from the layoffs and job cuts that happened during the pandemic.
“Simply put, members are reporting that staffing is not where it needs to be,” Gostola says. “Employers now just have an unreasonable expectation that employees work more than one job, that they do the work of two people instead of what they were doing originally.”
Even before the pandemic, decades of government underfunding and the privatization of public services have severely impacted the quality of the public services Albertans recieve. AUPE members have consistently reported working short, having increased workloads and dealing with understaffing issues. These issues impact not only AUPE members but also the Albertans who rely on our support.
“While the government might say they’re hiring, we know it's taking them months and months to fill positions. People applying for jobs don’t have months to wait to hear back from an employer; they move on to the next job, and we get further behind in fixing the working short crisis.”
The Government of Alberta, like any employer we deal with, isn’t going to fix this problem without workers using their collective power to improve working conditions.
Like any other boss, the Government of Alberta is looking after its bottom line, whether it's keeping costs down, squeezing every ounce of productivity from its employees or staying in power.
The Government of Alberta has been demanding that workers do more with less, for less, for years. Lack of support and resources, inadequate staffing levels, increased job duties and responsibilities without increased compensation: these conditions take their toll on employees both physically and emotionally resulting in increased frustration, stress and burnout.
The StatsCan survey echoes what was discovered through the AUPE’s Occupational Health & Safety Committee Working Short campaign in 2019-2020, where members shared their experience at work through a survey.
Eighty per cent of workers who took our survey said that working short and increased workloads is negatively impacting their emotional and mental health. This, in turn, impacts AUPE members’ relationships with their employer and coworkers, not to mention their relationships at home and in their community. The negative impacts of work-related stress can also result in missing work, further aggravating the working short crisis.
“The Government of Alberta’s hiring practices are another issue,” Gostola adds. “While the government might say they’re hiring, we know it's taking them months and months to fill positions. People applying for jobs don’t have months to wait to hear back from an employer; they move on to the next job, and we get further behind in fixing the working short crisis.”
Time is ticking and the longer the problem drags on, the worse it's going to get. As we saw in June’s Labour Force Survey from StatsCan, a net of more than 50,000 people moved to Alberta in the first quarter of 2023. While it’s great that people view Alberta as a great place to live, work and play, it also means there’s going to be more pressure on our public sector workers.
So, how do we as workers fix the problem of heavy workloads? We’ve identified the open positions and vacancies – in all areas – that need to be filled. Workers need to be put in place so there isn’t a backlog of services that residents are waiting to receive. We also need the government to stop chipping away at our public sector to make way for more privatization schemes. We need the Government of Alberta to end the working short crisis by fully committing to hiring, recruiting and retaining workers.
“We know job security is a priority for all our members, especially with a government that has been pushing its agenda of privatization,” Gostola says. “However, as we gear up and enter bargaining in the coming year, we cannot pull punches and accept zeros from the employer at the bargaining table. It is time for wage increases to be shown across the board because you're likely working the job of two people now, as opposed to what you were doing pre-pandemic or years before that.”
Members across the province must keep working together to make a direct impact on their worksites to protect their jobs, working conditions, pay and benefits and collective agreements. To do this we must all be prepared to take a firm stand and act. So, make sure you keep an eye on your personal email inbox, social media and online at aupe.org/news. This is how you will get the latest information from your AUPE negotiating teams to stay engaged and act when needed. You can also make sure the AUPE Records Department has your up-to-date contact information and preferences on file by visiting aupe.org/update-info.