Unpaid work and your health and safety at work

One of the biggest health and safety issues we see across all of our disciplines and sectors is the ever-increasing amount of work ’required’ to be completed which automatically corresponds to increased pressure to do more work, inevitably resulting in unpaid work performed. We know this cycle of workload mis-management causes serious harm.

The Union regularly pursues health services about under-staffing to resolve ever-growing workload issues. We also do it to protect your health and safety at work. It remains a major concern that health services, despite all the evidence of fatigue and injury, continue to ignore the unsustainable workloads of our members and the ever-increasing hours of unpaid work being done. There is no doubt that unsustainable workloads leads directly to increased levels of unpaid work which puts your health and well-being at risk.

It is clear from our research and the research done across the health sector that unpaid work means members are increasingly experiencing greater levels of exhaustion, which impacts on your performance at work and can lead to errors and mistakes. It also puts your mental and general well-being and health at significant risk. Without rest and recuperation between shifts, it puts you at risk.

Health executives continue to turn a blind eye to their critically important responsibility to safely manage workforces. We continue to receive reports that staff are not replaced when they go on leave, work isn’t prioritised when staff on sick leave are not backfilled and vacant positions are not being filled. These are all legal requirements under the enterprise agreement.

Instead, there continues to be a reliance on a model of demanding you do more work. Rather than treat you like professionals, management would rather work members until they experience burn-out and injury; or make mistakes which they then take up to pursue disciplinary actions, including dismissals.

It is your right to refuse to do overtime, which is unpaid.

Alternatively, because all additional hours worked are overtime, it is very important that you claim overtime pay for this work. Payment of overtime for additional hours is a legal requirement for your employer; non-payment of overtime for additional hours is a serious breach of your employer’s legal responsibility to comply with the overtime provisions of the enterprise agreement.

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. It is clearly a health and safety issue. However, we also know that these aren’t the only health and safety issues you face at work.

The union movement won significant changes this month when work health and safety ministers from across Australia voted in favour of strengthening laws to protect workers’ mental health.

That’s why the Union is supporting the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ survey about workers’ experience of health and safety in the workplace. The survey will help the ACTU better understand your experiences at work, what is important to you, and what health and safety issues you think could be improved. The outcomes from the survey will be used by the ACTU to develop campaigns to bring about the changes necessary to make work healthier and safer across Australia.

The outcomes from the survey will also provide us additional evidence about the impacts of increasing workloads, longer working hours so we can continue to pursue changes in health care settings to reduce the reliance on unpaid work to get critical work completed. You can take the survey here and when prompted, please select ‘Health Services Union’ as your union.

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