In the wake of COVID-19, workplaces across the country have swiftly made changes to operations. For many HACSU members, this has not been an easy transition and with some initial inconsistencies in guidelines and limited supplies of personal protective equipment. Together, we’ve worked through these issues with strength and unity and we’ve heard some rewarding stories of positivity and support across the membership.
We wanted to share with members some of the experiences of the HACSU team during this time, the struggles we’ve faced and how we’ve overcome the social distancing to continue to meet the needs of members at a trying time.
We’ve interviewed some of the HACSU team about their experiences; read them below:
It’s been a really busy time for me during this pandemic, not only in providing support and advocating for members’ needs, but providing support and attention to my children. Not having access to parks, school programs, limitations put on childcare and having to socially distance from family members, it has proven to be a challenging time for all HACSU members, including HACSU staff members, with kids. Despite these challenges, I believe that HACSU has come through this pandemic stronger.
I’m proud of the great successes during this pandemic, fighting the rights and recognition of HACSU members as essential workers. I would like to pay tribute to the two members we have lost as a result of COVID-19. We thank them for the work that they did – they were both essential workers who put their own health at risk to care for Victoria’s most vulnerable people. Our deepest condolences go to their families – who will forever be part of the HACSU family. We will continue to work hard to represent all essential workers – which every single one of our members are. There are no exceptions.
I’d like to thank members for their patience with the HACSU team over the past several months while we’ve adjusted to new ways of working and recognise the efforts of the team in being flexible to the needs of members, while working remotely.
I have been fortunate to have an office setup in a separate building to my home so have been able to maintain a level of normality of “going to the office” and going home, albeit a 20 step commute! I have missed the interactions with other staff in the office, and the social aspect of work that has been largely absent during this time. My one day in the office makes me excited that I’m going to see people and not only speak to them on the phone or on zoom. I’ve noticed that I have been far more productive, except find that I tend to work without breaks most days and wouldn’t have eaten or had a drink if my husband wasn’t bringing me food!
It certainly hasn’t been an opportunity to slack off, or do the gardening, that’s for sure. Luckily poor lighting in this room, gives me an indicator of knock off time if I’m still working beyond about 7pm. The flip side of this is I have spent more time with my husband than I have in our 7 years of marriage, with 3 hour commutes no longer, and stays in Melbourne reducing from 4-5 nights a week to 1 night… and amazingly we are still happily married!
Unfortunately meeting with members has not occurred, and this is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job as an Organiser. It has relied on phone calls and the occasional zoom meeting, with delegates being the key to keeping updated with issues. This has made workplace changes difficult to manage, where we would normally follow a set routine of meeting with members and then responding. Some individual meetings I have still done in person with social distancing requirements in place where I have felt it was in a member’s best interest to do this, to ensure they had adequate support. This can be challenging with not being able to get close to them before the meetings or in the meeting, but has worked well.
What I have noticed most is the dedication our members have continued to show their clients or consumers when they are constantly subjected to the risk of COVID-19 in their workplaces that would be devastating. For many, this has created a high level of anxiety, and coupled with major changes to the way they work, has been a very difficult time for them. On the whole though, they have got on with it, and still provided the best possible care to the people they support.
Most employers have recognised the importance of good communication with staff and the union in order to get through these times, whilst others have had to be brought along kicking and screaming. It has demonstrated that other methods of communication can be used whilst dealing with employers, and the use of video call platforms can be used instead of face-to-face for many things. Telephone conferences though have been difficult to manage with more than a couple of people and can lack the ability to develop rapport.
I think that COVID has shown us that we can do things differently than we used to. We have now got the evidence that we can have much more flexible working arrangements that can be positive for our work and can make us more productive and responsive to our members. Likewise, HACSU members have had to start using other forms of communication and get used to us not being able to be in their workplaces. I think in future we will be able to make use of these alternatives more often, without forgetting how important it is to meet face to face when needed.
Like most of the office staff, I’ve been working from home for quite a few weeks now. There have been several challenges with learning to use and adapt to new digital technologies for work, while also helping my son learn to use similar technologies for schooling from home. I really disliked the Zoom meetings at first and I was very nervous holding my first Zoom members meeting – but it went well and now I really look forward to chatting with members on Zoom! It’s a great way to be able to see people safely at a time like this.
I honestly don’t miss the commute to and from work, but I do miss getting out and about, seeing my colleagues and catching up with members face to face. The best thing for me during this pandemic is that I’ve been involved in the Side by Side project, which has given me the opportunity to speak to HACSU members every day. I get to hear great stories of how our members are adapting in their workplaces. I’ve heard of members implementing safety measures and coming up with ways of working within the restrictions to make the days as fun and meaningful for the people they are supporting with great ideas like indoor bowling, puzzles and a house-to-house Zoom disco!
It makes me happy to know that I have been part of the team that has helped raise our members issues very quickly. Our leaders Paul and Kate, and other colleagues have negotiated with Government Ministers and Employers to make important changes in workplaces, put safety first and gain recognition for the great work our members do every day to support vulnerable members of our community.
COVID-19 has obviously been an enormous adjustment for us all over the last two months or so, and the way in which HACSU members have handled this and made the best of a challenging situation has made working here truly uplifting during a tough time for us all.
There are rightfully still some anxieties and concerns from members about how this pandemic may change the way we work into the future. However, the resilience shown from the hundreds of members I have spoken to since lockdown began in adapting to this crisis so that they can still support the people they care for has underscored to the average person what we have long known – that HACSU members are essential in keeping our communities running!
I never knew we had so many active members willing to provide feedback and insight. There is a whole untapped member activism potential in members (particularly women) who are happy to be active if it doesn’t involve having to attend face to face meetings! This is a great learning for the union and I’m excited to see how we’ll continue to grow these hidden activists in future.
Regular phone calls, zoom meetings and emails have proven to be a time-efficient means of communicating with members and providing regular updates. COVID-19 has really highlighted how essential workers in our industries are, and how undervalued they can be at times; this is really upsetting but it motivates me to continue to work hard to represent members to the best of my abilities.
I’ve noticed that major change projects have been sidelined to make room for rapidly changing and adjusting workforce issues. However, the rapid changes have revealed how flexible employers can be and I intend to use this lesson as an advocacy tool next time an employer attempts to reject a flexible work arrangement based on ‘the worker should be at the office during this time’.
I’ve been happy with the flexibility that the changed working arrangements have created for myself and my family as well. For Organisers, I hope allowing us to work more efficiently and decrease the travel costs to the union will mean we can repurpose funds and use them in ways that are more beneficial to members in future.
Working remotely has been lonely but very productive! Whilst it’s a challenge to spend less time face-to-face room with HACSU members, I’ve been able to catch up with more members in any given week with the ability to schedule back to back meetings because of the lack of travel in between. COVID-19 has been tough on members but has shown their integrity and perseverance.
In both mental health and disability, HACSU members continue to care for consumers, participants and residents, providing much-needed support in the community. I feel incredibly positive about the future, as HACSU has shown that we can adapt quickly to meet members where they are, and work our way around barriers to provide the supports members need. HACSU is ready for any challenge and we’ll always deliver for members, pandemic or no pandemic.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we really are stronger together. I’ve been working from the HACSU office in Carlton throughout this pandemic crisis to support the HACSU team who have been unable to work from home for various reasons. I want to commend the work of the team here who have adapted to the challenges of COVID-19 swiftly, with the best interests of our members in mind.
There have been many challenges for HACSU members throughout this period, and I want to say how proud I am of how our members have stepped up and shown that we are essential workers; all of us. HACSU members provide some of the most integral services to vulnerable and marginalised people in our community and a pandemic hasn’t stopped us. As a union, I’m pleased to say that we’re stronger than ever before and that’s thanks to each and every member, whether they recently joined or they’ve been a member for thirty years plus.