Work, care and community - COVID and beyond

The July school vacation has provided a welcome opportunity to reflect on the many challenges of 2020 so far and how Terms 3 and 4 may unfold.

In a year which began with bushfires and a variety of other extreme weather events, then quickly followed by COVID and its associated social and economic impacts, there has also been an important IEU focus on the negotiation of new enterprise agreements in the Catholic sector and for independent schools.

Despite the complexities of meeting during COVID, IEU members have gathered in their chapters to endorse motions and discuss issues relevant to their workplaces. Matters often raised by members are how to balance their professional and family/carer and community responsibilities, especially within the context COVID, which has highlighted both health vulnerabilities and some of the wider social and gender inequities in Australian society.

A pre-COVID workplace survey, noted in a recent University of Sydney presentation to Unions NSW, indicated that male and female employees value paid parental and carer’s leave and access to flexible work arrangements to support them to care for babies, children and other family members. Although the survey was undertaken pre-COVID, recognition of elder care needs is an issue for many employees who feel that they now have increased responsibilities to provide practical support for their parents and other older family members.

In conjunction with its members over the years, the IEU has been able to achieve a range of entitlements which recognise the family, carer and broader responsibilities of most members, including:

  • parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child
  • personal/carer’s leave for personal or family illness or injury or for situations of family or domestic violence
  • the ‘right to request’ a flexible work arrangement after parental leave or to care for family/household members, including ageing parents; there is also a ‘right to request’ a flexible work arrangement if the employee has a disability or is aged 55 or older or is experiencing family or domestic violence
  • compassionate leave associated with the death or life threatening illness or injury of a family/household member
  • leave for jury duty, community service, international volunteer programs or military reserve participation as per the relevant enterprise agreements and the Fair Work Act.
Within the context of COVID, awareness of work and care rights is crucial for women and men in navigating their current situations and in planning for the future.

Under anti-discrimination law in NSW and the ACT, there is recognition of the rights of women returning from parental leave to feel safe and supported to breastfeed/express at work.

The IEU is continuing to expand recognition of the leave needs of members and has thus sought, within the context of bushfires and other extreme events, access to emergency/disaster leave of up to five days per annum and this has been agreed for the Catholic systemic sector. It is also part of the IEU’s claim for independent schools.

Agreement has also been reached for the Catholic systemic sector EAs to match up to ten days paid leave for family and domestic violence support now available for NSW Government employees. This is also part of other enterprise agreement claims.

Within the context of COVID, awareness of work and care rights is crucial for women and men in navigating their current situations and in planning for the future. What should work and care look like during COVID and beyond? Hopefully not a ‘snap back’ to old inequalities but a new recognition of the importance of the work, care and community roles of all members.

The IEU’s ‘Guide to Parental and Personal Carer’s Leave’ is a useful resource and members are always welcome to contact the union for advice and support.