November 26, 2020
To be human, is to get sick. Unless, you’re a hospo worker. In which case, it seems, you just need to suck it up.
But now, after Covid – maybe – people are finally realising that it ain’t such a good thing for us to spread our germs around.
But here’s the thing. Four out of five hospo workers are casuals with no paid sick leave rights. That means, depending on your boss, it can be almost impossible to take time off when you’re sick.
It’s one of many issues that union members say must change in hospitality, if we’re ever going to break the cycle of this industry eating its young and setting records for migrant exploitation.
But at last, it seems, our voice is getting heard. On Monday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a new sick leave scheme for casual workers in industries like hospo while declaring that “insecure work is toxic”. When the scheme is up and running, casuals will get up to five days of sick leave and carer’s leave at the national minimum wage.
The clamour to make this policy national has already begun.
We spoke to three Hospo Voice members about why this policy matters and why we need to keep fighting for real rights for casual workers everywhere.
“At a previous hospo job I was forced to come to work with a sinus infection and a migraine. And even when my boss saw how sick I was, I still had to work the shift. I texted her to explain this and she called me a liar. Then she said if I didn’t come in she wouldn’t guarantee me any more shifts. Basically, threatening to fire me.”
“I went to work. And when I went through the kitchen to get out on the floor, all the kitchen staff said you look terrible, why are you even here? I had to explain to them the boss couldn’t afford for me to stay home.”
“When the boss saw me she went white because she realised I wasn’t lying. But she still made me work five hours.”
“When I heard about this policy I went to my partner and screamed with joy. This has been a massive thing for me – the way casuals are treated is abhorrent. No one has your back. You’re completely on your own.”
“What if you’re being sexually harassed? If you stand up to your boss, you’re going to lose your job. Everyone else is scared.”
“It’s a starting point. It shows someone is paying attention. This is just the beginning.”
“At a previous workplace, I’ve had to go to work with the flu. It kept going round the venue. I also had to go to work with a dislocated knee.”
“When you get sick, what I’d be thinking of is, do I have time to let my boss know? Is there another person who can cover my shift, and can I afford to miss it? Will I be able to pay rent? It’s massive anxiety as soon as you wake up sick, knowing you have to go to work.”
“I think it’s really common. Especially before Covid, it’s part of how the industry saw themselves. You battle through whatever it is you’re suffering, and get on with the job. No one will tell you you’ve taken too much time off. But you’ll start to notice, especially if you’re casual, you could go from five shifts in one week and then only one shift, or no shifts. It’s actually pretty common.”
“When I can avoid it, I never want to go to work sick. You work in such close proximity, you don’t want to make anyone else sick. That’s a horrible thought.”
“This scheme is a really incredible step in the right direction. There’s a lot to do to change in hospitality and change about casual work. But stuff like this is a really good step forward. It’s giving a bit of power back to people in precarious and uncertain positions.”
“One time I was really sick while working at a restaurant. I texted my boss and asked if I could take the day off. And he asked me ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel?’. I said: about a 2. He then asked me ‘Do you think you have to go to hospital?’ and I said: No but I’m not sure how efficient I’ll be, and I’m afraid of getting the customers sick.”
“And he said: ‘Listen, I don’t want to hear about that. We’ve got 200 covers tonight. Get yourself together and get in here, as soon as you can. I don’t even get a day off.’”
“There’s this attitude among head chefs and bosses – in a way, they exploit themselves – and then they hold all employees to that same unhealthy standard.”
“When you’re under financial strain, you can’t look after your health without taking a huge financial hit, which many workers simply can’t afford to do.”
“Casualisation is a one-way street that is a raw deal for workers. It leaves us feeling incredibly disposable and strips us of our dignity. It denies us the ability to have a voice in the workplace because we are always scared of losing our shifts.”
“This scheme is a good first step. In a pandemic, workers’ health is not just the concern of employers and staff. If people are staying at work and they’re ill, it puts everyone at risk.”
These Hospo Voice members are standing together with hundreds more around the country to #RebuildHospo. Their activism was instrumental in the introduction of the new scheme of sick leave for casual workers in Victoria. Join them in the fight and become a Hospo Voice member too.
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