Adding injury to insulting workloads

During 2018, the Union undertook to survey all of its members about the impacts and extent of unpaid work. We have been undertaking this research for a number of years in order to better understand the nature and impact of unpaid work.

Unpaid work is defined as that work done outside of rostered hours without payment, including overtime penalties applied. Unpaid work is a very accurate measure of workload and work stress in any workplace. It is not, however the only measure.

The results from the 2018 survey show that workloads are continuing to increase adding to the already excessive workloads reported in the 2015 survey results as well as the survey that formed part of the public sector bargaining in 2016.

The 2018 survey reveal that more than 85% of respondents are doing more than an hour extra unpaid work per fortnight, with over 60% doing two or more hours of unpaid work. This result becomes more startling when consideration is given to the fact that nearly 40% of respondents are doing unpaid work on a daily basis, with more than 45% of respondents doing unpaid work on a weekly basis.

It is alarming that our surveys, conducted over a number of years, continue to indicate that for many health services the workplace culture is such that staff feel pressured into doing unpaid work on their own initiative, rather than because they’ve been asked by their supervisor or management team. It is also concerning that there remains such a heavy reliance on unpaid work in order for the work to be completed.

The patterns of unpaid work are showing that systematic unpaid work is becoming a ‘normal’ thing in workplaces across all sectors of health.

When asked about the reasons for doing unpaid work on their own initiative, approximately 85% of respondents suggested being unable to complete tasks within ordinary hours; 68% indicated it was because of the department being understaffed; 65% are doing unpaid work for patient care reasons; and approximately 58% indicated the unpaid work was due to urgent requests. These figures are strongly suggestive of a workplace culture which is ‘normalising’ unpaid work and ‘normalising’ the negative health impacts on the workforce.

The findings from the survey also indicate that when people are doing unpaid work at the request of a supervisor or their management team, it is because the department is understaffed. For more than 65% of respondents, requests to do unpaid work were agreed to because it was the only way to get all of their work completed. It is also worth noting that when asked if there were sufficient staff to cover the workload when staff take annual leave or sick leave, approximately 87% of respondents indicated there were not enough staff to cover such instances of leave; and more than 50% of respondents indicating they had been refused leave because of understaffing.

The results from the 2018 Survey paints a stark reality for all of our members – that service demands are continuing to significantly increase, staff levels are not meeting increases in demand and, as a direct result, workloads and the amount of unpaid work is continuing to increase. More unpaid work is being performed than in either 2011-12 or 2015.

One of the issues highlighted from the 2018 Survey is the rise of management’s use of on-call and re-call to cover understaffing. This particular issue had not been highlighted in earlier surveys and appears to have become a source of tension for respondents in the past 12 to 24 months. This kind of approach to managing clinical services in public health appears to stem from the unwillingness of managers to ensure the appropriate mix of staff required; under-resourced and understaffed services resulting in there often not being enough staff rostered to do the work; and continued successive cuts to healthcare by State and Federal governments.

Every time your employer refuses to increase staffing they are effectively adding injury to extreme workloads. It says that they don’t value your personal health and well-being. It also says they have no interest in ensuring the safety of patients because they are prepared to put your health at risk to get through unsustainable workloads; and when your health is put at risk through high levels of stress it significantly increases the risk of mistakes that can ultimately affect patients. This is something your employers know and understand but budgets are more important than your health and well-being.

The research shows there are some very big implications for the future if Victoria wants to continue delivering world-class healthcare, and particularly in a way that does not injure health workers.. If the current unsustainable model of relying on high workloads and unpaid work rather than employing adequate staff is allowed to continue our members will work in an entrenched environment of high risk of serious workplace injury and unsustainable workload.

The Union undertakes this workload to collect relevant and accurate data to make legislators and the public better aware of the impacts that funding cuts are having and how the failure to increase our workforces is actually putting patients at risk. And it’s for these reasons that the Union will again be undertaking its No Pay? No Way! Survey in 2019. We encourage all members to take the survey which we will be sending out in late September.

We will be sending out the 2019 No Pay? No Way! survey later in September so keep an eye out for it.

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