"It’s a no brainer that we should all be members and work together to have our voices heard."
CPSU delegate Rae Riley joined emergency services workers at the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ Emergency Services Summit in Canberra this month.
Rae shared her experience with her organiser, Jay.
Jay: You recently attended a forum of essential service workers in Canberra. Why were you keen to attend?
Rae: I wanted to represent the CPSU and do my best to put a good face forward for the important work we do at Services Australia.
J: Tell me about the conference
R: It was an amazing experience and a big privilege to represent CPSU members. I had the opportunity to address the room about the important, valuable work we do at Services Australia to not only other delegates and union members but to politicians and decision makers in Canberra.
Many of them were shocked to hear about the hurdles we face when providing essential services during emergencies.
In particular, I talked about Services Australia being understaffed and the need to increase staffing. They were shocked to hear that at the moment, when an emergency occurs we have to take staff off the ‘usual business’ which means that work falls behind and there’s a huge pressure on staff.
I talked about the need to lift the ASL cap and hire more permanent staff so that when these emergency situations occur, we can respond adequately. Ideally, we’d have a group of people trained and ready to go rather than rely on staff being pulled off their usual work, getting a 20-minute refresher training package and then told, “off you go” as we currently do.
J: What was the highlight of the trip?
R: It was a real highlight getting to meet delegates and union members from other unions - including paramedics, nurses, firefighters, forestry staff and other essential service areas. Everyone that spoke was very passionate and dedicated to their work. It was amazing to hear their stories and I was surprised at how much we had in common.
Many of them talked about funding cuts, staff shortages, and outsourcing, and the impact that was having on them being able to avoid and respond to emergency situations. It was sad to hear the same story being repeated.
I came away knowing that the moral of the story is that all government agencies need to be funded and staffed properly if we’re going to properly support Australians during times of crisis.
J: What was the most surprising part of the trip?
R: The fact that no National or Liberal Party person came to listen to us speak. They were all invited, including the PM, but no one gave the essential workers the time of day.
It was very disappointing that they didn’t have time for all the hard-working emergency workers talking about the work they do.
J: If you could speak with every Services Australia staff member about the trip, what would you say?
R: We have to remember that we do a really great job and that it’s not easy to do what we do. Our work can be stressful, especially when we’re thrown in to do it in difficult circumstances.
I also think it’s important that people know the union is essential in giving us a voice. Without the union it would not have been possible to get key decision makers in the room to hear our stories, and to push for more staffing, training and bringing services back in house for essential services.
It’s a no brainer that we should all be members and work together to have our voices heard.