Covid-19: a residential support worker writes
These times are obviously unprecedented and confusing for nearly all workers across the globe. Every day brings new changes in both our surroundings and collective understanding as our assumptions of what we held to be the way of the world has unravelled in front of our eyes more rapidly than we ever could have dreamed possible.
During these unprecedented times, I felt that it would be worth noting my own situation which in itself is perhaps rather unique. As workers have rapidly learned that their work could be done from home all along, I now face the situation of being in work 24/7 as I am confined to what was my place of work for half my time before the crisis. I am a member of Socialist Alternative and work as a Residential Support Worker for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC). My role means that I live in a house with and provide support to UASC’s who are fresh off the boat.
It is both highly challenging and rewarding, however in the ongoing crisis, the struggles of many who work in the Non-Governmental Organisation sector have become far more stark to not only myself but my fellow workers. We are here because we care. That is the sole reason I entered this profession and I know that it is the same for my fellow workers. If we had wanted to earn a decent wage then entering the private system would have been the obvious choice, but instead we wanted to devote our lives to helping some of society’s most vulnerable and neglected members.
Covid-19 has helped lay bare the intrinsic struggles that are more obvious across other elements of society, that workers’ interests are in contradiction with those of the ruling class and smaller management. In my workplace, I have spent the last year attempting to unionise my fellow workers to little avail. I was met with replies of there was no need in a place like this, that management were open to us making complaints and that there was a very open culture. And to an extent this was true. But to say that there was any element of workplace democracy or fair pay would be a lie.
This crisis has laid bare the antagonisms in a way to me which is so clear, but that most of my fellow workers are too afraid to take in or raise their voices about. Like all workers across the globe during this crisis, ensuring our safety is a paramount concern. Whilst management supposedly put plans in place to accommodate this, as the lockdown came into force, this was shown to be a farce. On many levels, they are failing my fellow workers and I. We have seven houses that accommodate UASC’s on various parts of their journey. Obviously, their care is of central importance to us. However, management insisted that we continue to visit these houses as if nothing had changed, whilst offering us no PPE and entering houses where personal hygiene can be lax and the lockdown rules not strictly adhered to (these are teenagers after all). When this complaint was raised with management, they batted it off as ‘well the care of the young people has to come first’ as if that wasn’t the reason we were all in this industry.
Many were obviously scared and with some of us having underlying health conditions put us at extreme risk. This at least presented myself an opportunity to pursue some collective action, as I contacted fellow workers to pursue at least some mild action for those who were too afraid to make stronger demands and we came to a system of one support worker to one house only. We achieved this through simple means. I whatsapped various other workers and asked them how they felt about the situation and whether they felt safe. A few were afraid to list their concerns. However, with growing class consciousness comes growing awareness of the importance of workers within any structure. With the support and agreement of most fellow workers, at our next team meeting another worker and myself listed that we did not feel safe and proposed our solution which was adopted.
However, the struggle continues. To this day, we have been offered a solitary box of hand sanitiser from one of the Local Authorities that we work with. This is obviously an unacceptable risk not only to ourselves, but to our young people. Every day I am working towards trying to garner enough strength and courage amongst my fellow workers to put forward a stronger list of demands so that our safety and that of our clients is truly respected. It is us who are on the coal face whilst management work from home with no obligation to go out their house tell us what is and what is to be done.
Solidarity to my fellow workers across the globe who face the same daily struggle to ensure their safety in the face of not only this health crisis but looming financial crisis too.