Unpaid work and professionalism

A couple of weeks ago we “celebrated” Go Home on Time Day. It’s a great day to remind every Australian worker about what they’re actually contributing in unpaid work; and in the last year workers contributed over $100 billion in unpaid work. That’s 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. And it’s a far cry from the usual stuff in the newspapers about Australian workers taking too many sickies.

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.

The reality is that none of these are reasons to do unpaid work.

If your manager or supervisor isn’t able to properly do rosters so people aren’t forced to do unpaid work, then you shouldn’t feel obliged to do unpaid work. It’s their 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.

And excessive workloads in many respects rob you of your ability to be professional.

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.

We know from experience in representing members in disciplinary processes resulting from an error being made that there is not a single employer that accepts a defence of stress and anxiety from high workloads and pressure to get the job done.

Excessive workloads are not about you and your level of professionalism; it’s about management lacking the professionalism they demand of you.

At its core these issues speak to the growing 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.

While the Union has worked hard to address these issues through the latest round of public health sector bargaining with rostering protocols and requirements on backfilling temporarily vacant positions, 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: https://members.msav.org.au/register

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