Employees

While investigating the topic of greening various aspects of institutional functions, it is easy to notice that institutions exist as part of a certain ecosystem whose elements influence one another. It becomes clear that it makes sense to look after the needs of our audience, recognise common interests while cooperating with our neighbours and other institutions, and respect the use of materials and resources. As employees of institutions we can see for ourselves that the relationships we create influence the wellbeing of the neighbourhood and the environment. The same dynamics apply within an institution. The way work is organised, what kind of relationships are in place, what values the team is built around, how problems are approached, how decisions are made – all these elements influence the institution’s environmental performance. In other words, an ecologically mindful institution cares about the wellbeing of its employees, fair terms of employment and remuneration, anti-discriminatory policies and an atmosphere engendering respect and responsibility.


STEP 1


Raising the subject of employees and their rights in the context of climate change and the ecological crisis may be surprising. However, the change associated with the notion of greening cannot omit the issues concerning the employees of cultural institutions. The principle of exploiting resources for profit affects every sector, including culture – and, like everywhere else, requires revision.
Exploitation, hierarchisation, inequality, discrimination, abuse are words we know from the existing economic system, which the natural world is entangled in, and which are transferred to the world of social relationships. Similarly, while introducing changes to the functioning of a cultural institution, one should not omit self-reflection about the practices within the institution. It is an organism which we need to care for and be collectively responsible for.

Employee footprint
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.

Trade unions
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.


STEP 2
Having analysed forms of employment and needs of the team, organised a safe process of group reflection on team values, work atmosphere, honest feelings accompanying work and mutual relationships, you can proceed to the next stage of changing your institution from the inside. It is important to pay attention to the workplace itself: does the institution provide sufficient access to social rooms, cloakrooms, natural light?

Equal access to knowledge and the process of change
Education fulfils a considerable role in this process. It is worth designing an educational and diagnostic process that would include all employees and allow for drawing common conclusions. Citizens’ assemblies may serve as an example, as they are based on ensuring equal access to knowledge, discovering facts and exposing myths, understanding mechanisms in order to make a collective decision for the common good. It is worth organising internal lectures and workshops with invited specialists, getting to know various tools of employee policy to better understand their psychological and emotional consequences. Warsaw’s Teatr Powszechny theatre may be an interesting example, as it conducted a year-long internal research process. This resulted in a participatory development of the theatre’s new identity based on quality and social functions of theatre. We can read about the results of this process in the documents available on the theatre’s website.

Transparency of employment forms and the remuneration system
The postulates put forward by the committees operating at Warsaw cultural institutions associated with the Workers’ Initiative are simple: “Equal pay for equal work! Reduce wage gaps!” Establishing a base wage on a base level and defining thresholds for higher or lower positions will ensure transparency of the remuneration system and give a sense of clarity and security. For example, Centrum Cyfrowe has developed a remuneration policy in consultation with its staff, which assumes a baseline rate for each type of position and a fixed multiplier corresponding to the next steps of development within a position. Remuneration, including the salaries of the management, is public to all staff members. Every staff member receives an annual pay rise of 2 percent and remuneration policy is subject to annual revision, with an assumption that if the organisation enjoys a good financial situation, the baseline rate is increased, which means higher remuneration for all team members.  
Another postulate is: “Employment contract is an employment contract! Down with outsourcing and civil law contracts!” The realisation of this postulate will make it possible to build a team without unreasonable symbolic differentiations which will always affect both internal relationships and psychological values: appreciation for work done, identification with the institution, healthy engagement, a sense of economic security, and a feeling that all team members have been looked after. A team is a team.
Realisation of the next postulate: “Remuneration is not a taboo! Introduce transparent remuneration policies!” will effectively deal with pay discrimination, exploitation and even manipulation of employees. 

Open process 
These are simple and basic changes but they will definitely meet with a lot of various types of resistance. For this reason, it is worth approaching these changes through a process that  begins with education including every person working for the institution irrespective of role, function or employment contract. It is best to develop solutions and an implementation system with the help of moderators in a way that would ensure nobody feels left out or attacked.
It is also possible to set up an open-for-all council or working group. This could be a prototype for a body involving all employers in decision-making, e.g. institutional budgeting. Such a body could decide whether to invest in new equipment, raise employee salaries or provide indefinite contracts. An important step in taking such brave action would be introducing the principle of participatory budgeting for a part of the institution’s budget, the range of which would consistently grow every year.


STEP 3


When going through the subsequent changes in the employee and work organisation policy, it is important to ensure that all members of the team are involved in the process. It is good to share knowledge gained with staff from other institutions, create support and knowledge-exchange networks and wider-reaching coalitions.

Influence on decision-making
Just as in other sectors greater control over the production process leads to increased care for the wellbeing of employees and the environment. The same indication should be adopted in the area of culture. An ecological cultural institution should include employees of all departments in decision-making processes, giving space for creation, responsibility and limitations. Employees know best how to improve their working conditions, especially in a time which requires change management, as now with the pandemic and also the dynamically developing climate crisis.

Work less

The website of New Economics Foundation has published a series of articles which prove that shortening the working week to just four days can significantly improve one’s quality of life, quality of work and the state of the environment. Experts believe that not only would this not harm the economy but it would drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Trade unions all over the world agree on this point and together pressurise governments. As teams of institutions, you may consider supporting this solution.

Alliance for changes in the relationship with funding bodies

An institution’s functioning is regulated by its funding bodies: Culture Ministry, municipal office, a local government authority. But the change of assumptions does not come out of the blue. When setting up coalitions, you can lobby for the change in the indicators which are used to hold institutions accountable. Currently, these include visitor numbers and income from tickets, which perfectly reflects the economic model focused on production and profit. While transforming internal policies, this way of accounting also has to change. As we understand more about the climate emergency and the mechanisms lying at its source, we need to insist on new ways of accounting for the implementation of programmes when transforming workplaces. New criteria should include partnerships with other institutions, neighbours, NGOs, carrying out social, civic and pro-environmental initiatives, attempting to lower one’s carbon footprint, supporting ecological movements with real and concrete activities, raising biodiversity of the neighbourhood and adhering to the policy of production moderation. One can start by including the commute time and cost.