York-led paper uncovers gap in health promotion research

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A team of researchers from York University and Ontario Tech University have published a paper in the journal Health Promotion International (HPI) that analyzes how contributors to the journal conceptualize unions, unionization and collective agreements as promoting health.

The paper, published Oct. 7, finds that the health-promoting possibilities of unionization and working under collective agreements are a neglected area among HPI contributors.

The research team – York graduate students Jessica Muller, Faisal A. Mohamed, Mary Catherine Masciangelo, Morris Komakech, Anum Rafiq and Azeezah Jafry, along with York Professor Dennis Raphael and Ontario Tech University Associate Professor Toba Bryant – explored reasons for this by drawing on an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report.

Dennis Raphael
Dennis Raphael

The report looks at the importance of collective bargaining and was used to identify areas for health promotion research and action.

Researchers considered 2,443 articles published in HPI since its inception and found that only 87 (3.6 per cent) mention unions, unionization, collective agreements or collective bargaining, with most saying little about their role in promoting health.

Further, the study shows that 20 articles make cursory references to unions, or refer to them as providing support and engagement opportunities for individuals, while 45 depict unions or union members as involved in a health promotion program or activity carried out by the authors or by government agencies.

The study shows that only 33 articles explicitly mention unions, unionization or collective agreements as potentially health promoting, which represents just 1.3 per cent of total HPI content since 1986.

With these findings, the paper suggests the journal can support the promotion of health research and action, and raise awareness, by:

  • encouraging engagement with this article through HPI-invited commentaries;
  • addressing the issue through special issues with a focus on union and labour influences on health and health-related public policy, as well as industrial relations and health; and
  • creating an ongoing section dedicated to industrial relations.

Unionization and working under collective agreements appear to provide many health benefits, said Raphael. The benefits include improving the quality and equitable distribution of the social determinants of health of income through wages and benefits (Western and Rosenfeld, 2011), enhanced job security (Hagedorn et al., 2016) and better working conditions (Zoorob, 2018).

As well, enhanced wages and benefits achieved through unionization positively affect additional social determinants of early child development, food and housing security, and reduce social exclusion.

“Considering the growing influence of the corporate sector upon public policy in Canada and the declining numbers of Canadians belong to unions, refocusing on the health-promoting effects of unionization and working under collective agreements seems especially timely,” said Raphael.

To read the full study. “A bibliometric analysis of Health Promotion International content regarding unions, unionization and collective agreements,” visit this link.