Vic police are beating burnout with ‘no out of hours contact’ rule – will ECEC be next?
Victoria Police staff have secured what’s been dubbed “the right to disconnect”, meaning that they are no longer allowed to be contacted outside of their usual working hours, for anything except the most pressing emergency, leaving those in many other professions, including early childhood education and care (ECEC) wondering what influence the measure will have on their rights as a worker.
Advances in technology have meant that many professionals, including those working in ECEC are now effectively ‘on call’ 24/7, reachable at all hours by phone or email.
From phone calls at 6 am advising that someone is unable to open the service because of illness through to completing documentation or responding to emails after the workday is done, many ECEC employees find themselves trapped in a workday which seems to never end, leaving them resentful, burnt out and unbalanced.
The Victoria Police decision leaves the door open for Unions in other sectors to lobby for the same inclusion for their members.
Speaking with the ABC, Sergeant Rachel Dunkinson outlined the challenges of her role, and a culture of being “constantly contactable” after hours, which she said has added to the draining mental toll of the work.
“It just causes undue stress for people, that’s not necessary when the job is stressful enough.”
Under the right to disconnect stipulation, won in the union’s most recent round of negotiations, direct managers must respect leave and rest days, and not contact officers outside of working hours, unless it is an emergency, or they are conducting a check of their welfare.
The aim of the changes is to begin to shift the culture of being ‘always on’, allowing Victorian Police officers to truly ‘switch off’ after they have finished their workday.
A veteran officer talking with the ABC explained that because of the stressful nature of their role, officers need to have space to decompress from the challenges of their role.
“I don’t know anyone that doesn’t walk away from a day at work, when they’ve done (a big job) and it’s not on their mind.”
“So then to get a call at home because of something that needs to be chased up, or something that they just want to continue on while you’re not there, it’s just an added stress.
“Then you just can’t forget about it for the rest of the day, and quite often these are things that can probably be left to the following day or when you’re next back at work.”
Integral to the success of the measure moving forward, and a point of learning for unions in other sectors wishing to negotiate similar outcomes for their members, is clarification of what constitutes a valid reason for out of hours contact.
In the case of Victorian Police, life or death matters of urgency, such as a bushfire, pandemic, terrorist attack or similar event is an emergency.
Calling to ask about a piece of correspondence, or to ask about changing a future shift, is not. It is this distinction which is likely to be of most interest to those working in ECEC in particular, who wish to bring about cultural change in their setting or organisation.
While there are no set penalties for breaching the out of hours contact rules, Sergeant Dunkinson said that simply by having the right to disconnect included in employment agreements, cultural change is beginning to take place.
She spoke to the ABC about returning to work feeling refreshed and feeling a sense of being genuinely “switched off.”
“I know my family really benefits from it and they appreciate it,” she said.
Speaking about the benefits for Victorian Police, the union secretary noted that the change has made a genuine difference to people’s working lives.
“Our working lives are just that, they’re our lives. and our time at work is our time at work. And our time – for the rest of our lives – is important to focus on too.”
To access the original coverage of this story, as crafted by the ABC, please see here.