QA workers at Keywords Studios, which has been contracted for quality assurance and development support on BioWare titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, are moving forward with their intention to unionise due to concerns about low pay, and a return to the office despite the coronavirus pandemic continuing.
The workers are contracted via Keywords, but are reportedly working closely with BioWare on upcoming sequel Dragon Age 4, following completed work on Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and Legacy of the Sith, an expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic.
According to an anonymous worker speaking to Kotaku, Keywords workers are currently in an administrative capacity with directions being delivered from full-time BioWare developers. It’s alleged Keywords management directed all workers to station themselves in the BioWare offices by 9 May, despite BioWare workers being allowed to work flexibly – a decision which sparked the idea to unionise.
As reported by Kotaku, 1,000+ new covid cases are still being reported daily in Alberta, Canada, where the office is located. Keywords staff reportedly do not receive paid time off for illness, and could lose at least two weeks of income should they test positive for coronavirus and be required to isolate by law.
By unionising, the workers aim to protect their right to work in a safe and flexible environment. They will also campaign to overhaul Keywords’ sick leave policy and its insistence that workers attend physical offices despite the major risks involved.
Should a union form, it will also fight for higher pay for QA analysts, who are currently paid around CA $16.50 (AU $18) an hour for highly specialised work.
‘We are very confident that we would be able to win a union vote,’ a Keywords representative told Kotaku. According to this rep, they experienced ‘retaliatory action’ following the announcement that workers wanted to unionise. At this stage, it doesn’t appear this will impact the decision to go ahead with a vote.
Keywords Studios workers aren’t alone in their ambitions. Recently, Activision Blizzard-owned studio Raven Software launched similar action – and while workers faced major roadblocks, it does appear they’re on the road towards strengthening their workplace rights. There’s hope Keywords will be taking a similar path soon.