Friday, 13 August 2010

day 3: employment

one of the benefits of examining privilege is that it teaches us humility. it's a chance to see how much of our lives is determined by good or bad luck, and how little control we have over outcomes. as a muslim, i'm taught to strive - i must make the effort and take the actions that need to be taken to achieve a desired result. but whether or not things go as planned, whether that effort leads to any positive results, well that is just not in my hands.

just a few links before i get into the main topic. i was on radio nz yesterday, discussing the burqa on the panel (about 10 or 15 minutes into the clip). i also put up a few posts at the hand mirror this week, one on the totally wrong perspective taken by the housing shareholders advisory group, another on the cruel decision by the government this week to not pay compensation to women who have suffered sexual violence and abuse at the hands of the police, and a third on a small bit of positive news in relation to ACC funding of counselling for victims of sexual abuse.

the topic for today is employment. i've been lucky enough to be in work from the time i left university. in fact, if you count holiday jobs, i've been working since the 5th form. i've had my own money, and financial independence is a strong tool of empowerment - but more about that another day.

i have had some experience of looking for work and being unsuccessful. luckily i was able to do this while i already had a job. i remember the blow to the ego that each rejection letter was. i remember how negative i began to feel about myself when no potential employer could see any value in me. i remember being told by phone not to bother applying for a job because they weren't interested in hiring a woman. they had made a change and hired the first ever woman in that position, and she had been terrible, so they weren't going to try that again.

i have not had to apply for work since i started wearing hijab. i've heard some sad stories from women who have that experience, one was so upset and frustrated that she ended up leaving the country. i know many migrants who have struggled to find work, and it is especially hard for refugees. this puts a lot of pressure on their families. one of my friends had found a job, but her husband was unable to find work for over 3 years. this meant not only that they had to adapt to a much lower standard of living than they had been used to, but also that she had to deal with someone at home who was depressed and negative. it lead to a lot of tension and arguments on a daily basis.

i'm lucky that i have a kiwi accent and good english. this helps massively when looking for work. it means that i would ring up potential employers before applying and talk to them about the job and my qualification & experience. this simple step would ensure that they wouldn't throw my CV in the bin without considering it.

i work in the field which i'm qualified for. i don't have the disheartening experience of spending many years (and a lot of money) studying a subject, only to find that it i can't find a job in that field. it would be even worse if i had to take a much lower paying or unskilled job, even though i knew i was qualified for a much better position.

i work in a place where there is very little stress. i have my own office, which i value a great deal. i love having my own little work space, where i don't get distracted by other people's phone calls or conversations or all the other noise of a busy workplace. i have a corner office, with windows on two walls which makes it light & pleasant. i can't explain the science of it, but the sun comes streaming in on winter mornings, warming my back and the whole office. yet in summer the sun hardly enters, so i don't have to worry about overheating. even if it did, i have an airconditioner so that i can ensure the temperature remains comfortable all year round.

i don't have to work out in the hot sun nor in the rain and cold. i don't have to work standing up all day, like some people have to do in factories and the like. i don't have to be constantly on the move, like health professionals or restaurant staff. i don't mean that people in these or other active professions don't enjoy their work and the level of activity involved. i'm thinking more of those people who work in a physically demanding job, and get home - mabybe after a long commute - totally exhausted. but they (and it's often but not exclusively women) then have to somehow find the energy to do the second shift at home - the cooking, cleaning, childrearing. i think also of those who are required to do shiftwork, with the resulting disruption to their sleep patterns adding an extra layer of stress.

i, on the other hand, get to sit in comfort with an ergonomically designed chair and a good quality computer close at hand. i have nice office furniture, and pretty pictures on the wall. i get to have the radio playing next to me, so i can listen radio nz all day long & keep up to date with the latest current events. my work place is clean and tidy, i don't have to deal with unpleasant smells or, well, icky stuff.

i get on well with my workmates and don't have to suffer any kind of harassment at work. all my colleagues are conscientious about their work and there is no maliciousness or nastiness in our workplace. we all get on really well and socialise often. i contrast this to a friend who has to deal with colleagues who deliberately try to undermine, who make nasty comments, and generally make her working life difficult.

i also remember a young woman who was significantly harassed at work. her workmates would do things that they knew would cause aggravation and even though each thing was not major in itself, they all added up to a very high level of stress. she would come home from work each day with major headaches and feeling distressed. because she was here on a work permit, she was afraid to complain. losing her job would mean being sent out of the country. she was specifically told that if she started wearing a headscarf to work that she would lose her job. fortunately things are a lot better for her now, but she lived with this for more than a year.

i also have experience of working in a place that was overstaffed, and everyone knew that jobs had to go. this led to a hostile environment where everyone protected their patch and tried to make others look bad. i know what it's like to be the subject of nasty gossip which, because it's always behind your back, you are never able to directly confront the accusations or the person(s) making them.

i know what it's like to be working at a job that you're not good at and not suited to. the constant failure is a drain on the soul, and is so demotivating that you fall into a vicious circle where you put in less effort and continue to fail.

i'm lucky to have an employer who is decent, caring and takes an interest in my welfare. my employer has stood by me in some distressing times, and that means a whole lot to me. i don't have to suffer from temper tantrums or nastiness because my employer is having a bad day. i don't have to deal with the humiliation of being bawled out in front of others. in a previous job, i had employers who were autocratic in the extreme and who watched and controlled every aspect of the job my co-workers and i did. it wasn't nice. my current employer is much more relaxed, and as long as the end product is of high quality and delivered in a timely manner, doesn't bother me much about process. my employer ensures that i receive the training required to keep myself up-to-date, and takes responsibility for ensuring that i am compensated well for the work i do.

i've never had to take a case against any employer, nor have i been unjustly dismissed or made redundant. i have been through a formal mediation process, but not as an employee, and i can assure you that it is extremely stressful. i've been the support person for another person who was suffering in her workplace, and know how difficult that was for her.

i don't have to work at a job where i am risk of accident and injury - although i did develop occupational overuse syndrome in a previous job. i live in a country that has good, strong health & safety laws, though work-related deaths and injuries are far too high. there are good accident investigation processes in place and employers do get held to account and prosecuted when they fail to take sufficient care.

if you are interested in employment and workers rights, my first suggestion would be to join a union and do some volunteer work. almost all unions are understaffed and need more membership and support. if you're not able or willing to do that, consider taking part in union campaigns, such as the fair pay rallies on 21 & 22 august. another way to support workers rights is to research the products you buy, and try to buy from those companies which have good work practices.

i know that i'm extremely privileged when it comes to matters of employment. i think of all the people for whom work is a burden, or who don't have access to employment, or who are under-employed. if you are one of the people who have to suffer from any of the issues i've listed in this post, or from other issues that i haven't recognised because of my privilege, then my thoughts and prayers are with you.

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