There’s a very tragic story being reported about the death of a young Melbourne woman, Sally Sandic, who took her life at age 21. Her parents are contemplating suing her employer, Telstra, as they believe that pressure to exceed sales targets and not to take stress leave contributed to her death. The facts are in dispute, and I make no judgement on them. But there’s no doubt that stress and distress at work cause much pain, and do much damage to mental as well as physical health. In the era of WorkChoices, it now appears to be unquestioned wisdom among the government and the press that work is some form of duty, and ought to be central to our lives, for longer and longer, according to the Prime Minister and Treasurer, as Tim Dunlop observes.
Just because he wants to keep doing what heâs doing forever doesnât mean he gets to tell the rest of the country that they should too, let alone suggest that they are jeopardising the countryâs future by daring to think about âearlyâ? retirement. People are able to make up their own mind about how long they work without getting a self-satisfied lecture from the self-satisfied PM about when they should stop working.
Talk about a nanny-state: the desires of the individual are meant to be sacrificed for the greater good of the economy.
Remember when the underlying assumption of a good society was that work wasnât the be-all and end-all of existence? That a âgood economyâ? was one that let people enjoy their leisure time rather than demand that they enslave themselves to the demands of the market?
How sustainable is this? With the response to capacity constraints in the economy being to try to soak up more and more people into the labour market – the ageing, the disabled, single parents – do we ever stop to question the social costs of “flexible” hours and highly competitive service work, to name just a couple of symptoms of the exaltation of labour above all else? Do we stop to consider the hidden injuries of unceasing work? Perhaps we just don’t have the time.
NB: Please read these comments where I try to clarify that my intention wasn’t to make a direct link between Ms Sandic’s death and any partisan concerns, or to politicise it. What I’m seeking to highlight is that the circumstances, as stated by her parents, do go to showing how serious the mental health implications of work-induced stress may be. If I’d posted about the death of a worker on a construction site, I don’t know that the same concerns would have arisen in exactly the same way, but I don’t want to be misconstrued as doing anything other than wanting to start a discussion about the serious nature of work related mental health issues and the workplace and legal climates which exacerbate them.