The image of an iceberg, frequently used in discussions on economic systems, may be helpful in understanding just how strongly related workplace conditions are to the climate emergency. It is customary to divide productive work (held in the workplace, remunerated) and reproductive work (happening after paid hours, i.e. regeneration, caregiving, spending time with friends, development, looking after one’s health). At the same time, this division separates visible work (the visible part of an iceberg) from the invisible work, i.e. output and resources we use (the much larger invisible part). What cannot be seen with the naked eye and what has not been taken into consideration in the idea of intensive exploitation of Earth’s natural resources is the fact that these resources are limited and finite. It is not possible to constantly exploit, mine and pollute (e.g. the air) without factoring in time for regeneration. Many experts track the cause of the ecological and climate crisis to this reason. The notion of carbon footprint was introduced and many countries and institutions are now concerned about this (see: ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT). In the same way, it is not possible to endlessly exploit human beings. A person – an employee – also requires time for regeneration and non-work activities, which is not taken into consideration by standard work systems. The notion of ’employee footprint’ may therefore be introduced as an analogy to ‘carbon footprint’. While thinking about change and taking action to improve the state of the world and its regenerative possibilities, it is important to remember to similarly improve human living conditions. Employees of any sector are not just resources to be exploited.
Employee rights ensure equality of staff members
As part of the first step, it is worth taking a look at the rules which exist in our work environment. To what extent are the needs of all team members taken into consideration? How is remuneration distributed? Do all team members have basic employee rights guaranteed or are the rights dependent on the type of contract? According to a report by the Workers’ Initiative trade union committees from Warsaw’s cultural institutions, employees of cultural institutions have low earnings, the pay system is classified, there are big disproportions in pay between the management and other employees. The gender pay gap is also considerable. Disproportions are also dependent on the type of financing an institution receives (Ministry of Culture, local government, municipal office). However, outsourcing and misuse of civil law contracts are very common, irrespective of the source of financing. Temporary work agencies do not guarantee employment, while civil law contracts devoid some members of staff of basic employee rights, such as paid annual leave or access to social benefits, and their work is not included in the length of service. This introduces economic insecurity into the lives of some employees, creates inequalities among staff and in the longer term may lead to health damage. Due to non-transparent and unequal policies, not everyone has the same rights, and the concern about their professional situation, social and living conditions is dismissed by the management.
Anti-bullying, anti-discrimination, anti-violence training
Training is important for raising employee awareness concerning rights, their observance and of forming relationships and communicating. Training conducted by specialist external trainers will reveal how our behaviour and forms of communication are dependent on larger schemes, often based on violence or discrimination. We reproduce them unconsciously in the workplace and beyond. Learning consciously aided by competent trainers unconnected with our workplace will make it possible to notice and understand processes and show how to discontinue certain behaviour, care for your own needs and the needs of others. Well conducted training creates a safe space for conversation and demonstrates tools which are worth using both at work and in other relationships which we engage in.
A trade union is an organised group promoting good conditions in the workplace and is regulated by a relevant act of parliament. The setting up of a trade union should not cause the management to be alarmed. On the contrary, a trade union is an additional guarantee that employee policy will be satisfactory. The union, as an organised employee group, has an influence on rules and regulations: staff rules, remuneration and bonus regulations, as well as controlling layoffs and establishing rules for managing the social fund and many others. It may also intervene in individual cases, taking the pressure of direct confrontation with the bosses off of the employee. Importantly, trade unions also take care of people employed under civil law contracts. Moreover, trade union committees of various institutions cooperate and may jointly intervene e.g. through campaigns, reports and letters at various levels of government. One example of this is the campaign of the committees of the Workers’ Initiative ‘Full culture, empty accounts’ or the international activity of Volkswagen and Amazon’s staff members.
Another informal method of ensuring that the employee voice is heard is the introduction of a trusted person function. Chosen in a secret ballot, the representative puts forward employee cases to the superiors. However, those employed under civil law contracts are not allowed to vote in the ballot.