Firefighters in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality are calling for change after releasing a report that describes a toxic workplace due to bullying and harassment.
The Cape Breton Firefighters Association Local 2779 says they were only able to see the 2018 report this summer, after filing a Freedom of Information request that took nearly four years to fulfil. The workplace audit was prepared by Ontario-based Bernardi Human Resources Law.
The association claims the CBRM and management within the fire service had access to the report since 2018, but did not allow members to see it.
The union shared it with reporters this week.
“We have a saying at work,” said Donnie Whalen, association president. “It’s the best job in the world. It’s the most hateful place to go to work.”
The report describes a broken culture with low levels of trust and morale. Whalen says there are 70 full time firefighters within the department who were surveyed. Nearly 30 took part in the audit in 2018. The report found 80 per cent of respondents said the employer did not make an effort to prevent harm from harassment, discrimination and violence from management. The same number of respondents said their workplace is not psychologically safe.
Although the report was completed in 2018, Whalen says members feel the workplace has not improved.
The CBRM hired Michael Seth as director of Fire and Emergency Services in November 2019, following the retirement of the previous director, Bernie MacKinnon, in 2018.
Although complaints have been filed to management, Whalen said no comprehensive investigations were ever done. “The fire service has a broken, toxic culture.”
Whalen says the report gave five recommendations to improve the culture within the fire service, with one being improved communication between management and members. He also says a working group was supposed to be created between management, the union and members.
“Not only did it say that we have problems, it said how to fix the problems,” Whalen said.
Some harassment and bullying faced by members included pressure to return to work when on sick leave and some firefighters receiving verbal threats from management, according to the report.
Whalen wants to see improvements.
“We can’t keep going ahead the way we are at the moment,” he said.
The mayor of the CBRM, Amanda McDougall said she only recently saw the report, and was saddened to see the high levels of harassment in the workplace, and poor communication between members and their management. She wants both parties to come to the table and find a solution.
“Having management listed in this report as being one of the challenges, of course, you want to make sure everybody’s at the table to have a really open and honest discussion about what the findings of the report are,” she said.