Charlottetown – On Pink Shirt Day, the CUPE PEI Division Executive and union locals representing Education Sector workers are calling for anti-bullying legislation for schools and workplaces.
The Day began in 2007 as an act of solidarity with a Nova Scotia high school boy who was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. Two of his classmates urged everyone to come to school in pink shirts the following day. Since then, schools and communities throughout Canada and beyond mark the occasion on the last Wednesday of February every year.
“Bullying is unfortunately a very serious problem in our schools”, said Linda Jones, President of Local 3260 and spokesperson for the Education Sector. “It is about gaining power over someone and making them feel small. Educational assistants and others working with students see the harm bullying can do to young people’s self-esteem and well-being.”
“We are pleased that the PEI government is seriously considering bringing in anti-bullying legislation for our schools”, notes Jones. “Provinces like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have recently adopted laws requiring prevention strategies, reporting, investigation and measures to deal with bullying behaviour in classrooms and even online.”
“Legislative protection against bullying is also needed for our workplaces,” affirms Betty Pryor, Chair of CUPE PEI’s Health and Safety Committee. “When harassment goes unchecked, it can cause serious health problems like depression and anxiety. Bullying has been internationally recognized as an occupational health and safety issue ,” notes Pryor, “and some provinces have included psychological harassment in their workplace health and safety acts.”
“We all pay a high price for bullying,” adds Lori MacKay, President of CUPE PEI. “It often leads to increased absenteeism, low morale, staff turnover and school dropouts. It is so important to identify and deal with disrespectful behaviour before it creates a toxic learning and work environment. Employers and school authorities must be proactive and ensure policies and practices are in place to address the problem” concludes MacKay.
CUPE PEI represents about 3,000 public sector workers. Four CUPE Locals represent approximately 1,500 front-line employees in the education sector: school bus drivers (Local 1145), administrative support staff (Local 1770), school maintenance workers (Local 1775) and educational assistants, youth service workers, student attendants and workplace assistants (Local 3260).