Western-led research aims to prevent workplace violence and harassment

New funding has been secured for a Western University-led collaborative project that sets out to prevent and reduce violence and harassment in workplaces in Canada.

The project is receiving nearly $2 million in funding through the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Fund , a program from Employment and Social Development Canada, and will focus specifically on workplaces in the air transportation, railway, telecommunication and communication sectors.

Seamus O’Regan Jr., Federal Labour Minister

Announced this week by federal Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan Jr., Western’s project is one of several across the country funded through this grant with the goal of creating safer workplaces for federally regulated employees.

"No one should have to choose between feeding their family and being safe at work. A safe and respectful workplace is a fundamental right in Canada. So we’re working with labour, industry and experts to make sure that right is upheld," said O’Regan.

Barb MacQuarrie, community director for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) at the Faculty of Education, is the project’s lead. Titled, "Collaborating to prevent and respond to violence and harassment at work," the project will lean on partnerships with employers and unions.

On the employer side is Federally Regulated Employees - Transportation and Communications (FETCO), an employers’ association comprised of federally regulated firms like Air Canada, Bell Canada and WestJet. Union partners include the Canadian Labour Congress and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec.

Francophone labour law experts from Quebec will provide help, as will various francophone and anglophone experts in workplace harassment and violence prevention. The project will also collaborate with a number of sexual assault and harassment centres.

The goal of the collaboration, MacQuarrie says, is to build the capacity of employers and unions to prevent and respond to violence and harassment at work. The project will develop customized and effective ways for unions to support their members during such incidents. Community-based organizations, like sexual assault centres, are another priority, as the project will strengthen the support these organizations provide to workers experiencing sexual harassment.

Barb MacQuarrie, community director for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) at Western "We’ll also have a piece of the work that’s about trying to facilitate working relationships between unions and employers when they are focused on preventing and responding to workplace harassment," MacQuarrie added.

Equipping workplaces with strategies, tools and resources to prevent harassment and violence is a core expertise of CREVAWC.

In 2020, CREVAWC received another grant from the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Fund to develop www.DVatwork.ca , a website aimed at helping employers and other workplace leaders navigate domestic violence. The website provides free resources such as domestic violence training, an organizational readiness assessment, a risk screening tool and a policy builder.

While this past project focused on domestic and family violence, the new work will broaden the view to encompass the different forms of violence and harassment that employers may experience within the workplace.

"We’re going to try to apply the past experience and expertise we’ve gained over the years, to really work with employers first," MacQuarrie said. "We’re not assuming, going in, that we know what they need, we’re going to let them tell us."

The same method will be applied to the project’s union collaborators, allowing all partners to prioritize their own specific needs.

Occasionally, union and employer collaborators will come together to see what pieces can be worked on together.

With input from the project’s Francophone partners, MacQuarrie says the resources and strategies developed will be bilingual, not just in the language they’re presented in, but also in their recognition of the unique context of Quebec workplaces in comparison to the rest of Canada.

"The hope is there will be something universal also coming out of this project that we can share across industries and across workplaces," MacQuarrie said, adding she feels privileged to be able to lead the work.

"I’m heartened by the fact we now have legislation that’s really trying to take the issue seriously."

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