Russell Wangersky's column in the “Telegram” on March 1 addressed the issue of doctors having to police the workforce, based on the condition employers impose on their workers to prove that they are sick by providing a doctor's note. This stems from a lack of trust on the part of employers. Employers point to the fact that this province has the highest rate of sick days being taken.
Much of the distrust between employers and their workers, according to Mr. Wangersky, stems from the unique geography of the province and the history associated with many employees having been treated like indentured serfs, which has also contributed to traditionally low wages and high employment. He postulates that treating employees with more respect and valuing their contribution would result in fewer sick days being taken, negating the employer's attempt to have doctors police the workforce. High absenteeism can be seen as a reflection of how employees feel about their work.
I can underscore these sentiments by providing an example of an employer I worked for who does not have an absenteeism problem. The employer in question severed the relationship the company had with a major manufacturer of off-road equipment in 1982 that was dissolving into bankruptcy. Upon severing the relationship, the plant manager essentially fired all 200 employees one day, and hired them all back the next day into a brand-new, employee-owned company. Once every worker gained a financial stake in the success of the company, the already low absenteeism went right out the window.
The plant manager successfully avoided organized attempts to unionize the employees by providing wages and benefits that outweighed anything the union organizers were offering. In yearly voting by the employees, the union organizers were never able to gain more than two to five votes. That is not meant to negate the positive effect of unions. It's merely a reflection of an employer who realizes that any profit is secondary to ensuring that employees were good at what they did and recognized for it.
When you became an employee with this company, on the loading docks or in their product engineering department, you were all provided with the same company benefits. These included a competitive salary for your position, paid family membership into the local health club, input into how the company operated through participation in quality control groups established for each department, a comprehensive health plan that included the employer topping-up a benefit that fell shy of 100 per cent, as well as automatic stock investments in the company that accrued over time and with increases in salary.
The company routinely provides for the workers to decide amongst themselves what type of work schedule they want to work during particular seasons. For example, many workers expressed an interest to have three-day weekends in the summer, resulting in a 40-hour workweek being compressed into four days. Within that structure, an opportunity was afforded to the workers to change the hours of the day that they worked during times of excessive heat.
After the employer severed the relationship they had with the parent manufacture, the company was free to take on projects of other manufacturers. They have never looked back, and no doctors have had their time abused by scheduling appointments and taking up time writing notes for employees as if they were errant children trying to skip school. Wangersky is right. Fix the relationship between employer and employee, and absenteeism becomes an unpleasant memory.
Wangersky says the business model needs to change in order to reverse this relationship. OK, but you better consider this: Businessman Bill Barry wants to lead the PC Party in this province, and he's announced that he intends to run government like a business. Hasn't running government like a business been part of our problem long enough? If governments don't get it, employers won't either.