Costs of working unpaid hours

Each time you do unpaid work there is a cost involved and it’s not just the lost wages.

We know from our ongoing research into the unpaid work that thousands of hours of unpaid work are being done to make sure that key health services continue to deliver the world-class healthcare we expect. And when you think about it, thousands of hours of unpaid work is a lot of extra time given to employers, while we’re repeatedly told Australia’s workforce is too unproductive and doesn’t deserve a real increase in wages.

In fact, the myth about our workplaces being unproductive is extremely harmful when it just doesn’t reflect the reality.

Each year the excuse of needing to increase productivity is used to withhold pay increases or to run stories about ‘lazy’ Australian workers. Just think how the private health sector continues to lag further and further behind the public health sector in pay rates. It’s little wonder that workers don’t want to stay in the private health sector.

The reality is that like other workers, you’re giving your employers your time and not being paid for it. Often we’ll tell ourselves it is all part of being a professional. Or that if we don’t do the extra work then it’ll be left for others. Or we’ll tell ourselves, or have managers and supervisors tell us, that if we don’t do the extra work a patient will be worse off.

None of these are valid reasons to do unpaid work.

It is well established that the growing levels of unpaid work in our workplaces stem primarily from understaffing. We shouldn’t lose sight of the basic truth that it an employer’s responsibility to ensure there are enough staff to do the work required, not yours. It also means that the real implications of increasing workloads and diminutions in staff levels are being hidden or not properly accounted.

Another harmful impact from the levels of unpaid work is that employers use the fact that work is getting done to argue that staffing levels are correct. In other words, they are using the goodwill of members who perform unpaid work against them.

Excessive workloads in many respects rob you of your ability to be professional. It robs you of time with your family, friends or doing other things you enjoy outside of work. And it also robs you of your ability to take care yourself and ability to ensure you’re performing at your best.

When you are stressed and overworked errors can occur and mistakes can be amplified. Stress and being overworked can lead to serious health problems leading to increased time away from work. And there is not a single employer that accepts a defence of stress and anxiety from high workloads for errors made.

Excessive workloads are not about you and your level of professionalism; it’s about management lacking the professionalism they demand of you. It’s about the failure of management to properly resource your service by ensuring that workplaces are fully staffed.

It’s about the very real concern that many vital services are reliant on you doing unpaid work; and an unspoken workplace culture of doing unpaid work.

It is up to us fight back. It is up to us to protect our professions, wages and hard won conditions and rights at work. It’s why we’ve been asking for your help to identify vacant positions in your workplace that need to be backfilled.

Together we worked hard to address these issues through the public health sector agreement with rostering protocols and requirements on backfilling temporarily vacant positions. But the best way to fight back is to strengthen our collective voice by increasing our membership – please encourage your colleagues to join the Union. It only takes a couple of minutes and can be done from the comfort of home at:

Paul Elliott

What impact is unpaid work having on you? Tell us about it >>

Share This Post On