I understand the gravity of this pandemic. I’m a scientist by trade and I’ve read the articles on this virus and the chaos it causes. I understand the maths behind flattening the curve and I am totally all for the concept. My parents are in the high-risk group, so I have personal skin in the game.
But I also see the chaos isolation is causing for workers and carers:
Let’s not forget people now isolated in homes with perpetrators of violence.
Let’s not forget people who’s job it is to support the mentally ill members of our societies or serious offenders and that they now must perform that role in their homes, with their children around.
When the Government introduced the social distancing measures, everybody who could was told to pack up their desk and move it home. And then the schools were closed. Schools play a larger role in the community than just education. The closure of schools put a whole different group of people at risk.
An academic has two young children, one has an Autism diagnosis. He is a single parent and has a full teaching and research load. As his University is proficient at online learning he has been asked to maintain his full teaching load but just deliver it from home (oh and please take a pay cut). Because he can work at home, he can’t send his school aged child to school. So he is now expected to maintain his full workload, whilst caring and schooling two children, without access to his support network.
Janet works for a government funded service. She works with a variety of community members and is now performing this function from home. Her kids are now home with her. Janet is not comfortable with the risks of bringing her sensitive work home with her but doesn’t see any other option.
Liz is an administration assistant at a local law firm and a mum of three. Her partner, John usually works long hours and then attends the local footy club before coming home. He is now working from home and has no other reason to leave the house. This has resulted in significant depression for him which in the past has led to anger and violence. Liz now works from home whilst parenting and home schooling all three kids. She is desperately trying to be productive at work, keep the kids quiet and away from Dad and still carry out all the domestic duties. She raised the situation with her boss, he said she could access unpaid leave if required. Reluctantly she agrees. Liz is now left with no income, and as the violence escalates has no ability to leave or anyone to notice her struggle. This scenario could end in any number of ways from here but none of them are happy ones.
So what’s the solution? Well open the schools to those who need it I say. It’s not just essential workers who need to have their kids in school. For some families access to school is a necessity. I know of psychologists who have asked schools to accept some students into the school to protect everyone in the family – only to be told no. As a society we are protecting the physical health of our citizens through these measures, but we can’t relegate mental health to second cousin status. Mental Health should be viewed as just as important as physical health and therefore a balance must be sought. And all too often when mental health deteriorates, physical health is at risk. I understand identified vulnerable children are being allowed to go to school, but too many may not have been identified as vulnerable pre-pandemic.
What can organisations do to be more inclusive? In terms of family violence, a look on the Fairwork website reveals this advice:
“What if an employee may be experiencing family and domestic violence and is asked to work from home?
For some employees, working from home isn’t always a safe option. There might be alternative arrangements the employer can make.
Under the Fair Work Act, employees dealing with the impact of family and domestic violence can:
Employers can find information about supporting employees experiencing family and domestic violence workplace in our Employer Guide to Family and Domestic Violence. “
The solutions provided here do not address the described problem. I’m not sure how taking unpaid leave protects anyone in a family violence situation, if anything it leaves the victim more vulnerable to control and abuse by their spouse.
As for workers whose sensitive, confidential and sometimes risky work has now entered their home, well I believe this needs to be addressed immediately. These workers need to perform their jobs well after the pandemic and should not be asked to compromise their families safety.
To really demonstrate inclusion, workplaces need to recognise the impossible position many of their employees are in. Sending out memos about what parents can do to manage their home and work responsibilities is patronising at best. Taking real action to reduce workloads of staff in these more difficult situations - well that’s useful.
I would not want to be the people making the decisions on behalf of all of us right now. But I will continue to advocate for employee health and wellbeing, protection from violence and safety in the workplace to be treated as higher priorities. We must be more holistic in our approach to safety and we have to recognise that not everyone is in the same boat, for some the boat has hundreds of holes and could sink any minute now.
15 October 2021
06 September 2021
16 August 2021