On 2020's International Youth Day (August 12), the SEIU-West Young Workers Committee (YWC) launched a survey in order to determine young worker experiences during COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.
The responses were used shape a letter from the YWC to elected officials, including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
The following article was written by YWC committee member Arin Blair:
COVID-19 - it has reshaped our communities and we have had no choice but to adapt.
It has affected all of us, even if we have not directly been affected by it.
It is reducing our income, educational opportunities, social interactions and has made it more difficult to get by.
With that in mind, the SEIU-West Young Workers Committee reached out to other young workers (aged 35 and under) in our union and asked them to complete a survey about their experiences during COVID-19.
As the participants of the survey has shared, a lot of us have not had an easy time facing this pandemic on the frontline. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at work was a big issue at the beginning of COVID-19, but we’ve adapted and supplies have improved. However, only 69% of the survey respondents know who to talk to about their COVID-19 concerns at work, including issues surrounding their PPE. Some members are still having trouble access the PPE supplies.
“I don't like having to fight our managers for more PPE (n95s and shields) when we run out on our unit. We’re under so much pressure to do the proper protocols and handle everything in a respectful and dignified manner. Everything changes weekly with the pandemic so keeping up is tiresome.”
Nearly 50% of respondents also said the pandemic has increased their personal day-today expenses for items like PPE and cleaning supplies for their families and homes.
But work overload and lack of staffing seems to be the biggest concern. Nearly 65% of survey respondents said they were getting called in to work on their days off due to understaffing, and job demands change almost daily. Nearly 25% of the respondents were not getting their vacation requests accepted at all.
“Our workload has tripled in the last 4 months, but we are short-staffed and not enough extra help being called in to help with the increased workload. Managers are requiring more short notice help to deal with the pandemic and when you put that on top of annual vacation being delayed and the many short notice vacation requests you end up in a no-win situation.”
People have been facing work overload, isolation, financial issues and fear of contracting or transmitting it. Seeing a doctor or asking for help right now can be very difficult for some people. Social gatherings have been limited to a small number causing a feeling of isolation and withdrawal from loved ones. There has been an impact on members sleep during the pandemic – nearly 60% said their sleep has been negatively affected by COVID-19.
“There seems to be not enough time to fully reset and prepare for the next set of shifts. On your days off you either spend all of your time trying to catch up on the sleep you lost while working or your taking extra shifts to try and help your department out, because if you don't you know you will have a bigger mess to walk into when you do go back after your days off.”
“Cohorting of staff has led to staffing shortages in some facilities who are understaffed to begin with, which is leading to very burnt out employees and a lot more overtime being called as well.”
Stress has increased substantially for both SEIU-West members and for those they care for.
“We are more short staff due to cohorting, the residents are more anxious due to lack of family, activity and stimulation, which cause s more falls, agitated behavior, and it is very stressful. The residents are lonely, upset, and at this point don’t care if they get covid, many people have passed away already due to loneliness, and boredom, they are giving up. The residents with dementia don't understand, the masks scare some of them, they can't tell if we 're smiling , they haven’t seen our faces in months!”
People have been struggling with financial issues since before COVID-19 began but now it has grown worse. Many young workers have lost income due to cohorting in health care, and workplaces laying people off. We have members that have gone from having two jobs down to one and having their spouse without an income. The government has offered funding to some, but most people are ineligible. Of those who are losing income, nearly 52% said it was due to cohorting and a lack of financial support.
“I have not been able to get enough work to support myself due to being cohorted.”
"I just want to be able to work at my second job as my one income is not enough. That stresses me out. Tons of us work at other facilities and we’re de finitely feeling the pressure of only one facility paycheque.”
COVID-19 has changed our lives.
We have had to grow around this and change to make it work, but we cannot do this alone, we need one another. We need to make sure we stay connected to friends and family even if not physically. If you notice someone having a hard time reach out to them. We must find ways to support one another.
We are all in this together.