It’s hard to know where to start with the Sydney-based employer — a council located in Sydney’s south-east — which asked staff to sign a declaration that they would not be supervising children aged seven or younger while working from home.
Bayside Council did this in the initial stages of the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney, which has become NSW’s worst outbreak in over a year and has seen the Premier and the Prime Minister urging people to stay home.
According to the report by Angus Thompson published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, staff were asked to complete forms declaring that they will: “not have primary care responsibilities for child/children aged 7 years or below while working from home”.
It gets worse: Bayside then sent a follow-up email to parents when the lockdown was extended by a week into the first week of the school term. The email told staff that “working from home and supervising home learning is not permitted.”
The council has justified this off workplace health and safety responsibilities. Curious, given the suggestions the Council goes on to say parents could do instead of supervising kids while working from home. They have suggested parents send their kids to school, where their kids and consequently these parents face added risks of being exposed to the virus. They also suggest parents do this work outside of school hours, which would likely mean asking parents to work during the hours they may have otherwise spent sleeping — given kids don’t suddenly require other needs, after 3pm. The employer also suggests staff take leave, which may work for part of the lockdown period — and what if it extends? What if parents don’t have this leave?
Sorry Bayside Council, this is not your call. Just like parents are being asked to take on the load of keeping kids at home during this period, so too do employers need to take on the load of dealing with it.
And as we’ve seen in previous lockdowns, parents do — somehow — actually make this work! They get through the work day. They get through their tasks. And they supervise the remote learning at the same time. It’s messy and complicated and exhausting and stressful but it happens.
These parents don’t need to be questioned for daring to continue their work with their younger kids in the background. They need to be supported. They need to be given extra flexibility to work and how and when they need, which may include working during school hours. They need to be given options around meeting times and Zoom calls. And, possibly, even given access to materials and options that can help keep their kids occupied.
We well and truly know by now what lockdown means and what it entails. And colleagues and managers who don’t have young kids at home while working from home have likely seen the chaos occurring in the Zoom meetings and backgrounds of those who do. We’ve also seen how these lockdown periods impact the physical and mental health of these parents. We’ve seen the longterm impacts of parental burnout.
Managing a lockdown is everyone’s responsibility. Managing kids at home through this, is everyone’s responsibility.
That includes employers. Especially those employers lucky enough to be able to have staff working from home.