Unpaid work creates unhealthy workplaces

As the new year starts to get going, we feel it’s important that the new year at work includes a lot more self-care; and a preparedness to report toxic workplaces; and to report when your workplace vacancies aren’t backfilled.

The Union has been working to address the under-staffing and ever-growing workload issues. It remains a major disappointment that the state government, despite all the evidence, continues to allow public hospitals to maintain private pathology contracts that are clearly failing and have now resulted in services being downgraded, or worse, labs shut down.

In a few cases, we have seen that hospitals have had to cut previously offered clinical services because there is now no on-site pathology service. This isn’t limited to those public hospitals with private pathology in place. There is significant under-staffing and workload issues in every health service in Victoria. It is particularly disturbing that the Health Department, Health Minister and public hospitals are blatantly ignoring research that illustrates unequivocally that there are severe shortages of medical scientists and that the situation is getting worse.

In addressing the clear shortage of staff across our disciplines, the Union has been working on the pharmacist leave relief bank while also working to increase the psychologist workforce. The state government announced there would be additional funding specifically for the recruitment of more psychologists into Victoria’s mental health system. To this end, the Union continues to work with the government and stakeholders to ensure that our mental health system is properly staffed because we know there still aren’t enough psychologists for the rapidly increasing demand for better mental health. We will be holding the government to account to ensure there is an actual increase in psychologist numbers and we don’t mean an increase in counsellors who have been employed as psychologists; a trick being used by some health services.

It has become increasingly clear that hospital executives are turning a blind eye to the critically important responsibility to effectively address workforce management. We continue to receive reports that staff are not replaced when they go on leave, work isn’t prioritised when staff are on sick leave, vacant positions are not being filled and management refuses to step up to argue with DHHS for more staff.

Instead executive managers rely on the 1990s workforce model of demanding you do more work which is having a significant impact on the general and mental health and well-being of members. Rather than treat you like professionals, your management would rather work you until there is a burnt-out and injured workforce.

It is essential that you let your managers know that it is not acceptable to be doing unpaid work on a regular basis just to get your normal work done. In fact, you have the right to refuse to do unpaid work, and being a professional means knowing that unpaid work has an impact on your health and well-being, which ultimately impacts on your effectiveness at work.

By having management that encourages damaging workplace practices like working through meal breaks and doing unpaid work, it means there is less time for you to spend with your family and friends. It means that your physical and mental health and well-being are being damaged without any chance to recover. Being fatigued is a recipe for mistakes to happen and for injuries to occur; and we know that when you make mistakes there is no mention of the extreme workloads and amount of unpaid work being done.

With the growing body of research and evidence that is showing the dire shortages across our disciplines, it is only a matter of time before more hospitals cannot deliver on key clinical services. In some instances, public hospitals won’t be able to deliver even the most basic services. The Union has been able to successfully take on health services about workloads and staff numbers but this success needs members support. Reporting cases of understaffing and high workloads, and not backfilling leave and vacancies, and providing key evidence is the key to continuing this success.

The Union remains unapologetic about our backfill and staffing-level campaigns given the very real need for all health services to employ more staff to deal with the ever-growing workloads. Make sure you report positions not being backfilled or vacancies that remain open so that we can take it up. Don’t forget that the stories of patient impacts arising, these issues can be just as important for us.

Paul Elliott

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