Mass Redundancies and Community Recovery opened my eyes and changed my life.

“If you’ve not seen it, experienced it or been affected by it, it’s almost like it’s not real” (British teenager)

I first observed mass redundancies in late 2008. I remember that Monday as though it were yesterday. I watched men and women pack their things into cardboard boxes and adult professional men sit and cry.

Those redundancies, on that Monday, opened my eyes and changed my life.

Since then I’ve been disturbed and at times absolutely terrified by the veil of silence over redundancies—before, during and after they take place. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

• I’ve seen people pivot, change and transform their lives

• I’ve heard stories about former colleagues who’ve lost their life savings, their marriages and their homes

• I’ve witnessed leaders in my industry admit to suicide attempts

Last week Qantas announced they’d be axing more than 6,000 jobs and standing down 15,000 staff. The stark reality is that some of these people may never work again.  

Mass redundancies like these are tough and confronting. They are ‘taboo topics’ and ‘elephants in the room’ at weekend BBQ’s, at Sunday Brunch and in Boardrooms. They are easier to ignore rather than to tackle and discuss.

Being made redundant (or retrenched) can be one of life’s most traumatic events—causing a level of stress similar to a marriage breakdown. It leaves many people asking themselves, ‘Why me?’

On Monday the 7th of December 2015 my own role as a Transport Planner was made redundant. I was given ‘an advice of potential redundancy’. Despite my financial preparations, it was a huge shock.

I’ll be honest: the first 48 hours are a bit of a blur. I remember trying to hold it together, crying and receiving text messages from people saying, ‘You’ll be right’. I remember feeling empty, lost and confused. I’d just agreed to buy a house, and that afternoon I had to call the real estate agent to terminate the offer. My friends and family remind me now that I’d said spur-of-the-moment things like, ‘I’ll be homeless’, ‘No-one appreciates me’, ‘How will I cope?’ and ‘What will I do?’

Amongst the tears, anxiety, panic and self-doubt, I reached out to my thousands-strong professional and social media network and asked for help. A very short message stating that I was seeking employment and freelance opportunities. Believe me, it takes a lot of courage and guts to be open, honest and to ask for help.

I was lucky. I got a new job. Many people struggle for months, and even years.  

In the BBC TV series ‘Blood, Sweat And T-Shirts’ – which took a group of British high street fashion victims to live the life of poverty stricken Indian fast-fashion factory workers – one female teenage participant said “If you’ve not seen it, experienced it or been affected by it, it’s almost like it’s not real”. She’s absolutely right.

I spent a chunk of 2017, 2018 and 2019 in Australia’s Far North Queensland doing ‘Community Recovery’ ex–Cyclone Debbie and the Townsville and Ingham floods. I met people who’d lost their homes and their jobs. I met people with no salary, no superannuation and no savings. I met people who were left with only the clothes they had on their backs. I saw houses that were so destroyed that they were just a pile of rubble and I saw people living in tents and derelict buses. I met people having unmedicated psychotic attacks, entire families with lifelong drug addictions and I got bitten by a drug dealers' dog. I saw things that Governments, of any type or colour, and all channels of mainstream media don’t really want you to see, experience or be affected by - so it’s like it’s almost not real.

Community Recovery opened my eyes. I saw first-hand and up-close that our Governments and Councils need to spend our money where it’s really needed – mental health, health, education, the environment, climate change, domestic and family violence, child abuse, homelessness, disabilities, poverty, crime, drug abuse, drought, youth unemployment and mass unemployment, to name but a few.

And now COVID19 will change my life again.

COVID19 is testing us, our communities and our Governments. The task at hand is epic and the extent unknown.  

• 1.7 million people in Australia are Job Seekers

• 3.5 million Aussie adults are Job Keepers

• 1.4 million Australian households are in ‘mortgage stress’

(1.7 million Job Seekers. 3.5 million Job Keepers. That’s 5.2 million people and 88,000 jobs. Roughly 60 people for every 1 job)

Our airlines are grounded. Millions of cafes, hotels and tourist attractions have an uncertain future and one after another, businesses large and small are closing their doors.

My friends in small business are not OK. They are stressed, scared and struggling. They are fighting an uphill battle, running out of money and feeling more and more exhausted, each and every day.

There is a lot of stress, shame and stigma surrounding any type of redundancy. People may offer polite but meaningless platitudes. Others may cross to the other side of the street (yes, people did that to me). Industry ‘friends’ may tell you that their job will never be made redundant. None of which is useful!

Everyone’s COVID19 story is different. In these COVID times, a lot of people need help. Let’s open our eyes (and our ears) and help change someone’s life. Reach out and show someone you genuinely care. Ask “how can I help?” or “what can I do?”.

And, remember if you are feeling scared and uncertain you are certainly not alone.