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November 2, 2012

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Clerical workers 'Spread too Thin'

BURNABY—A new CUPE clerical workers’ survey shows what clerical workers across BC already know - that they are highly skilled, overworked and underpaid. The report, undertaken by CUPE National Researcher John Malcolmson, gathered information on clerical work, workload pressure and impacts from 449 workers in six different BC bargaining units.  The resulting report attached here is entitled Spread Too Thin - Clerical Work Under Pressure.

Clerical work is predominantly full-time continuing employment.  Clerical workers taking part in the survey report earning an average of $37,400 per year.  The age of workers taking part in the survey averaged 46 years, close to the average of all CUPE members in BC.  And, survey results confirm that clerical work in CUPE bargaining units remains an overwhelmingly female-dominated job classification.

The study found that:

·         Clerical staff report high levels of work experience in the field, although significantly less with current employers. This suggests that people drawn to this type of employment typically remain within this classification area through their careers, even though they may change jobs with greater regularity. 

·         Clerical workers report an interesting educational background profile with one-half of participants having some level of post-secondary educational qualification and almost one in five having university-level degree qualifications.

·         Clerical work is not static in nature and has seen major change over time with the advent of new technology and newer norms of work organization and administration.

·         Clerical workers participating in the survey offer strong evidence of mounting workload pressure in their workplaces. Almost 80 per cent of those surveyed say their workload has increased in the past two years and a similar percentage says that new duties have been added to their jobs.  However, about 70 per cent report their work hours have remained the same over the same period.  Viewing these three measures together confirms increasing work intensification for most surveyed clerical workers over this period.

·         Clerical workers confirm a widespread management practice of not replacing positions made vacant by leaves, vacations or other absences.  These practices are seen by workers as contributing to workload intensification and stress.

·         Two-thirds of clerical workers report performing unpaid work on their jobs.  However, actual amounts performed were fairly modest for most.  More than half said they did less than half an hour of unpaid work per week.  The average weekly amount of unpaid work for everyone participating in the survey was 24 minutes while, for the subgroup reporting actual performance of unpaid work, the weekly average came to 43 minutes.

·         Although most clerical workers involved with the survey report positive job satisfaction, stress and health-related impacts are evident amongst a significant proportion.  Over half said they had had difficulty with either stress or work-related fatigue.  Significant numbers also reported work-related headaches, anxiety and sleep disruption.  The primary sources of stress cited by workers were constant interruptions in work, accelerated work paces and workplace noise.  Apart from stress, the most common and tangible adverse health effects identified were neck and shoulder pain.

·         The survey also canvassed a range of ergonomic issues.  It found that knowledge of ergonomics was uneven and that many workers were in the dark about efforts that may have been undertaken in their workplaces in the past to either measure ergonomic variables or to address ergonomic stresses.  Many clerical workers reported long stretches of time spent sitting or at computer terminals although most indicated taking breaks or getting up and moving around to alleviate symptoms of ergonomic stress.


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