Published: 09/12/2021
Category: On The Job
Published: 09/12/2021
Category: On The Job

Well, that’s another year that can get in the bin!

For many workers, 2021 has been the sequel that no one asked for.  It’s been another year where ordinary Australians have carried the burden of navigating a pandemic whilst the uncertainty around work, government support, border closures, vaccine availability and the length of punishing lockdowns was unrelenting.

As the year limps along to its conclusion, we look to 2022 to deliver us a brighter horizon, but we do so warily because we’ve learnt the hard way to take nothing for granted.

We understand that uncertainty is the temper of the times.

Workers have shown such incredible resilience and determination in the face of so many challenges, and if called on to put the shoulder to the wheel for each other would do so again.

2021 has again shown that our values – of solidarity, community and collective commitment – are the bedrock of a strong, decent and fair society.

These are not just slogans on a wall. Workers and Unionists have lived them, leading by example, at a time when a wide cross-section of our communities was in distress and others choose division, fear and conspiracy as their totem.

We can be rightfully proud that as things got tough, workers and Unionists didn’t waver in their commitment to one another and the ideal that we are only as strong and as safe as the most vulnerable amongst us.

Throughout the year, this column has spoken to hundreds of people who have led by this example, workers who were tested by a once in a century crisis but who lived their values and made a huge difference in their communities.

It’s been so very hard for those trapped in Scott Morrison’s insecure work economy. In May, I spoke with young workers in Victoria who were facing further lockdowns, this time without the safety net of the JobKeeper or fully funded JobSeeker payments that Unions had won at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Frankie, a young Hospo worker in Melbourne, lost her jobs and had also been told by Centrelink she’d been overpaid. The anxiety was crushing.

“Yesterday, I had a massive shower cry about it,” Frankie told On the Job.

“People my age are in a very similar situation to me. It’s this constant thing about once you have any kind of saving it gets drained, it gets taken away.

“Either Centrelink audit you and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you owe them two grand, or you don’t have work for the next couple weeks. So, any savings that you might have that you wanted for some kind of quality of life, are suddenly gone.

“It’s so disappointing because you feel like you’re never getting ahead. And I think there is that comparison to the older generation.

“You kind of feel like a bit of a f*ck-up.

“I was talking to my mum yesterday and I said I don’t understand why I’m in this. It’s like a constant struggle.”

This is still the reality for far too many workers and it’s the reason why the fight for decent, well paid secure jobs is more important than ever.

With an election looming in 2022, what we do to fight for young workers like Frankie to bring about change has never been more important.

For frontline workers – from emergency services, health and aged care workers, retail employees, cleaners, teachers and so many others – facing the pandemic head-on was a daily prospect.

Often referred to as “the heroes of the pandemic”, they have earned a place in our history as the workers who wouldn’t yield.

Every one of their stories matter. They all involved choices that required sacrifices for them and their families and loved ones in service to their communities.

In October, I spoke with a range of front-line healthcare workers in Sydney’s lockdown western suburbs. As the case numbers mounted and hospital presentations exploded, the pressure on these already fatigued workers was intense.

Steve is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience and a deep instinctive desire to help people.  As the case numbers mounted and hospital presentations exploded, the pressure on these already fatigued workers was intense.

“It’s like standing on the beach and watching the water being sucked out to sea, knowing that it’s coming back your way soon as a tsunami. All you can do is stand there and brace yourself for the impact,” he told me.

Greta works in an emergency department of a major hospital in Melbourne’s north. In October, the hospital was ramping ambulances in huge numbers because there was no room inside to cope with the patient load.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a focus on healthcare workers and how hard we work and the challenges we are facing every day?” She told, “On the Job.”

It’s one thing to offer thanks to workers such as Steve and Greta but applause doesn’t pay the bills.

Their commitment to our community needs to be permanently acknowledged, but the best thing we can do to express our gratitude is to fight for better pay, conditions and permanent jobs for workers such as these.

So, as we see off another year that was sent to test us, we can do so knowing we met every challenge.

However, there will be new ones ahead and we must bring the same commitment and solidarity to bear to meet those as well.

So it’s goodbye 2021. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Onwards to 2022, and let’s make the changes we know will matter that will improve the working lives of ordinary people.

Would you like to share your work story with On the Job? We’d love to hear from you. Email us.

2021 – another year that showed Union values matter

2021 – another year that showed Union values matter