real life

'There's been an impact on prisoner behaviour': The reality of COVID-19 for 9 Australian essential workers.

The feature image used is comprised of stock images. The contributors of this story are known to Mamamia but have chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. 

The world we are living in right now is not normal.

In recent weeks the new realities for our medical staff, police and teachers have been front and centre (and rightly so) as our country tries to figure out how to function amongst a worldwide pandemic that’s so far killed 180,000 people including 74 here in Australia.

But these aren’t the only professions that are considered “essential” in our restriction heavy world. Yes, they might be critical to the management of any outbreak in our community, but there’s countless other workers required to keep our world ticking over.

WATCH: The Prime Minister nearly cried last night talking about our strict restrictions. Post continues after video.

Video by Sky

We need supermarket workers to restock shelves for hungry tummies, couriers to deliver to households unable to leave the confines of their four walls. In fact, the prime minister says he considers “someone who has a job” right now to be an “essential worker.”

Mamamia spoke to nine women about how life has changed, as they continue to service customers and do their jobs in the age of COVID-19. Sadly many of them spoke about being misunderstood, and unappreciated by a society who can’t fathom how severely some corners of the community have been affected by this pandemic.

Custodial correctional officer

We have well over 1000 prisoners and 100 staff on the ground, making social distancing impossible. We cannot perform our jobs and maintain a 1.5 metre gap.

I am not nervous at all about going to work in regards to the virus, but it is definitely having an impact on prisoner behaviour. They have had no visits for four weeks and they are under increased lock downs. As a result, we are seeing a statewide increase in serious incidents. I am more likely to be assaulted than get coronavirus at the moment.

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There have been riots, prisoners on the roof, serious assaults involving prisoners and staff, flooded cells and smashed televisions. No visitors to centres also means a decrease in the accessibility to drugs and as a result, an increase in poor behaviour. This is all on top of a very overcrowded prison system where men have to sleep on the floor next to a toilet in a 3 x 3 metre cell.

Everyone hears about the amazing people on the front line – ambos, police, nurses, doctors – but we often feel completely forgotten about. We are hidden away from society behind the razor wire, up close and personal everyday with people you would prefer to never meet.

Centrelink worker

We are all hands on deck pretty much.

Senior managers are processing claims alongside normal workers (this is unheard of – it’s usually a culture of managers manage and are normally very hands off when it comes to the actual doing of work).

Everyone is doing overtime, and some employees have been working seven days a week since this all started.

I’ve been working until 8pm most nights, and I worked all through the Easter break.

coronavirus photos
As more and more Australians become unemployed, the lines at Centrelink have been swelling. Image: AAP Image/James Gourley.
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Security guards have been placed in all offices, and staff are also trying to remind customers of social distancing [while doing their jobs].

We have been asked to report anyone who is or has breached self isolation or quarantine requirements to attend the Centrelink office, which is something I feel torn about as people are desperate for money and often can’t get through on the phone.

We are a government agency that has been chronically under-funded for many, many years with staff cuts and poor staff training - and have now been left scrambling to catch up and meet demand. We are looked down upon by the public due to wait times, a complex system or stigma against the agency. We never receive any praise from the government, and yet we work with the public at often the worst times of their lives.

Accountant

Working as an accountant at the moment is a whole new ball game.

JobKeeper payments and the Cash Flow Stimulus for businesses are processed through the Australian Taxation Office so that means all our clients are requiring additional support to receive these payments. We are lucky to be working from home and still employed, but we've been thrown in the deep end working out how to help our clients as quickly as possible.

Lodgement date for most businesses and people is May 15 so its normally a busy time for most accountants, add on to that March activity statements due at the end of May, and now the JobKeeper payments enrolment which started this week.

It is so new... there is a learning curve, and the clients have lots of questions and many are anxious to keep their business afloat. It's great being able to help as much as we can and guide them through this difficult time, but it's also very hectic at the moment.

Vet nurse

It’s craaaaazy busy at the moment. Customers are mostly being great about us pushing routine and non essential things, but some people are so difficult about it.

We are running 'non-contact' so the nurses are run off their feet taking animals in and out and delivering payment out to people’s cars as well as helping vets. There's also extra cleaning.

It’s been so much extra work and emotional labour and there’s nothing to take the edge off after work so I feel like my days just run into each other.

Clinical psychologist

We’ve had to adapt to providing services virtually and via telephone while in some cases, juggling kids at home.

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I’m not taking on new clients and haven’t for a while but the demand has definitely increased. We’ve also had to contend with services not initially being rebatable via Medicare which meant many clients couldn’t access Telehealth unless we saw them for free. Then the government decided we needed to bulk bill everyone which was a financial nightmare.

It’s been challenging working from home. My two kids - two and seven are present when I’m report writing or doing brief phone calls but after a couple days of lengthy consults with them present, I’ve had to make other arrangements for them as it’s not possible.

So yes, I’m in an essential service and can work from home but not with my children present - an argument that seems to be missed in the media.

Child safety officer

Day-to-day work has adjusted in some areas and staff are following social distancing, but things such as home visits and investigations are still occurring.

Each area is doing care plans for children about how to keep them safe during this period. Foster carers are also needing more support during this time too, as they care for vulnerable children.

We need to continue to engage with children and families, and it’s even harder because of the increased risks of domestic violence incidents during this period. But while we look after the state’s most vulnerable, we also need to look after our own families too.

Restaurant owner

We own a restaurant that was forced to close and shift to takeaway.

We have had to let all our staff go and just run it with myself and my husband. I am home with the four kids all day while my husband preps and does lunch alone and then I go to work every single night. I think my workload has tripled since all this started and I just can’t wait for it to be over so I can sleep for a week.

Restaurants coronavirus
Restaurants and bars across the country are operating takeaway only menus. Image: James D. Morgan/Getty.
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One of the hardest parts (when we were told to close our doors) was that we had thousands of dollars of stock sitting in our fridges. We had to let our staff go, but we still had supplier accounts to pay, holiday wages to pay out, insurance, rent and utilities. We basically worked for three whole weeks doing takeaway to get even, but we still haven’t taken a wage.

My kids are two, five, seven and 10 and I am too tired from working every night to home-school them, and the younger ones can’t read the lessons yet or understand them. Only my 10 year old is an independent learner.

Our customers are amazing because our regular customers are the ones who are coming for takeaway. Without them we would have nothing.

Travel agent

We are still open and working - trying to get people home to Australia or overseas and back to their families, all while dealing with the long stressful process of mass cancellations, and trying to de-code airline and supplier terms and conditions in the ever-changing world. Mid-march we had a line outside like a night club.

To say I have aged 20 years in the last two months is an understatement. My staff and I also cop people walking past our office making jokes and snide comments about how we shouldn’t have jobs and 'why are we here as no one is traveling anywhere,' all while our beloved industry falls to its knees.

I think travel agents are very misunderstood at the moment. The wrath (against us) is starting to die down but a lot of angry people didn't understand why airlines weren't giving refunds when they weren't cancelling the flights, the airline was. But with the trouble with Virgin now it may start up again.

The workload is increasing every week, and yet I think I will be stood down within the next two weeks.

Virgin airlines restarting
As the Virgin collapse sinks in for customers, travel agents are bracing for an influx of inquiries. Image: Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty.
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Pet shop employee

The shop I'm in is classed as essential due to us selling food. We have had a lot more requests for kittens because of isolation. We do adoption cats through a rescue centre and we have been a bit stricter on who they are adopted to and why.

So many families have been coming in and wanting to set up a fish tank which has been interesting as we want fish to live a long and happy life and not just be neglected after isolation ends.

We have a sign up saying how we prefer card payments to limit the amount of cash handled by staff to protect us (and customers) however, when we have passed that information on we have been abused and sworn at. It is now at the point where we don't even say anything anymore and just accept the cash.

We have also had customers get extremely frustrated and completely go off at us because we don't have the specific cat litter in stock which is completely out of our control. Customers are coming in short fused and are projecting any frustrations that they may have regarding COVID on us. In another shop a staff member was spat at by a customer over a disagreement about stock levels a couple of weeks ago.

I feel that sometimes people don't recognise that we are people too and are risking our health to make sure their pet can eat, their cat has litter, their dog has toys to stop distracting them while they work from home, and to help them set up a fish tank to help distract their children from all the scariness in the world.

Feature image: Getty.

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