If the COVID-19 pandemic has produced any sort of silver lining at all – aside from the obvious ones such as partaking in an over-abundance of UberEats, the awkwardness of having Zoom meetings interrupted by family and pets, and the baking of bread and biscuits in more varieties than one ever knew existed – it is that more people have discovered a convenience of working from home, if applicable to their specific situation.
And the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has released a survey about the working-from-home revolution, with more than 10,000 respondents aligned within its union ranks revealing some positive and negative truths alike.
The ACTU found in its survey two positive findings: just over four out of five (81 per cent) respondents said they’d work from home if given enough support, and almost half (47 per cent) of the workers taking part in the survey said they felt more productive.
However, the survey also revealed some dark edges from those who adapted into the working-from-home habit:
- Two out of every five respondents (40 per cent) were working longer hours, many of whom were racking up an extra five or more hours per week;
- A shade under one in every three workers (32 per cent) have reported acquired an increased workload;
- An average of $530 per person, out of their own pockets without reimbursement, was incurred to pay for work expenses;
- Three in every five workers (60 per cent) were spending more time at home as a carer;
- Work/Life balance was being distorted for a majority of workers, many of whom were starting before 8:00am and one in three working up to or past 9:00pm;
- An overwhelming majority (90 per cent) of all respondents reported not being paid overtime or penalty rates for working their extra hours;
- And on the mental health and well-being front, half of all respondents reported experiencing some form of a related issue, including workplace-related health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression or self-harm
While the full report into the initial findings did not deny that workers’ productivity was generally increased, amid all of the disadvantages listed above, the ACTU also advocated that workers also “have a right to be disconnected” from work itself and work-related devices at some point of the day in order to ensure a work-life balance.
In other words, the ACTU was seeking to defend the rights of workers as a basic human right central to its core “888” value, among all of the values of the Australian union movement.
Sally McManus, the ACTU’s national secretary, cited the need for unions to be allowed to play their role to bridge the gaps between those working from home and those working in traditional workplaces.
“We have an opportunity to make working life permanently better for people who have the ability to work from home,” said McManus.
“We can see that many people are enjoying not having to spend significant time commuting, and having greater flexibility to manage time with family.
“We know that there is the capacity for great productivity gains in working from home, but those gains must be shared. To do this, workers need specific and new supports to ensure working from home delivers benefits and is a healthy and safe environment,” added McManus.
From this, in acknowledging that working from home is here to stay, the ACTU have made good on its promise to introduce a Working From Home Charter, to combat the problems and issues exposed in the initial working-from-home survey.
Such a document was released on Tuesday, and issued a five-point broad list for remedies of suggestion:
- Working from home should always be voluntary, with equal pay regardless of where you work and no out-of-pocket costs for working people who choose to work from home;
- Employers remain responsible for the health and well-being of employees working from home during work hours and should do everything they can to remove physical and psychological hazards;
- Every employee has the right to disconnect from work outside of work hours, with excessive hours and work creeping into non-working hours to be avoided;
- Anyone working from home must still have access to union representation and understand their basic rights – maintaining access to independent dispute-settling procedures and arbitration if matters cannot be settled through discussion;
- And as a basic overview matter, all workers deserve to have their rights protected, regardless of whether in the workplace or working from home
McManus, in discussing the items contained in the charter, feels that those who work from home should not possess any advantage or disadvantage to those who work from their offices or other on-site locations.
“Greater access to working from home could make life better for huge numbers of people – but we have to make sure that it’s sustainable and properly supported,” said McManus.
“The decision to work from home doesn’t mean you surrender your rights at work, or your mental health.
“No one should be out of pocket, expected to work longer unpaid hours or not allowed to disconnect,” added McManus.
In greater detail, and in spelling out the rights for those choosing to work from home, the ACTU stresses that such a decision should be a symbiotic relationship between the employee, employer and their union delegate, with the same elements of the ideal workplace culture – such as with education and training, equipment, expenses, working hours, productivity, expenses, and safety and well-being – being maintained.
“Unions are available to every worker and are here to help make workers ensure that their jobs are good quality secure jobs no matter where they work,” said McManus.
“If you’re working from home and you’re being asked to work longer unpaid hours or dealing with mental health issues as a result of your work, get in touch with your union,” she added.
Furthermore, as the work-from-home revolution evolves, so will the union movement’s interest in assuring that those choosing to work from home do so seamlessly compared to those in on-site locations, McManus adds.
“Unions will be negotiating rights for home workers as outlined in the charter with employers – it’s critical that we take a proactive approach to getting this right,” McManus said.
Also by William Olson:
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