Long working hours are unhealthy for everyone

According to research released by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000. The results of the work done by the WHO and ILO were published in Environment International earlier this month. This new research is on top of the various studies globally that have linked long working hours with increased risk of a variety of health conditions like strokes and heart attacks.

This latest research from the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation supports what we have been saying for a long time. We’ve seen in our disciplines an ever-increasing amount of work with an ever-increasing amount of pressure applied to staff to do more and more work, increasing people’s working hours. Between understaffing and increasing workloads, we know our members are working longer and longer hours.

The Union has been working to address under-staffing and the ever-growing workload issues through our public sector bargaining negotiations. It remains a major disappointment that the state government and employers, despite all the evidence, continue to ignore the significant workloads of our members and the ever-increasing hours of unpaid work being done, putting our health and welfare at risk.

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 is working 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 mental health support. We are 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 is increasingly clear to us 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.

Instead, there are executive managers that rely on a model of demanding you do more work. Rather than treat you like professionals, 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 forced into unsustainable workloads and doing unpaid work on a regular basis just to get your normal work done. It is important to remember that you have the right to refuse to do unpaid work.

With working long hours now known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden. Unfortunately, it is something that hospital management are contributing to by turning a blind-eye to their responsibility to properly staff services to keep workloads and hours at safe and sustainable levels.

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 and longer working hours. Please make sure you report positions not being backfilled or vacancies that remain open so that we can take it up.

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