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Meet RHH Delegate Jenny Forward

MEET Jenny Forward – A CPSU Delegate at the Royal Hobart Hospital. Jenny is the hospital’s Refugee Migrant Liaison Officer, working in the position full time for four years. Recently she spoke with the CPSU about herself, her work and her role as a Delegate. Find out more about Jenny below.

What does your job involve?

We see a number of refugees and of course the migrant population. Staff weren’t always confident about how to organise an interpreter or handle communication breakdown that can happen between people of different cultural backgrounds. So this position was set up. I provide all the cross-cultural awareness training to all staff in the hospital and now I’m also covering the training for the Southern Tasmania Area Health Service staff.

Sometimes I’m running five training sessions a day, which I really enjoy. I’m really passionate about this area of work because I lived in Chile for five years during the military dictatorship. When you have lived overseas under a military government it just makes you aware of how much people have suffered before they come to
Tasmania. So that’s why I’m keen to help them when they do get here, because I’ve got a small bit of insight into what they may have been through.

A lot of patients that I work with from a refugee background, they have been in camps for 10-20 years, have seen their families killed in front of them. It’s important staff to work comfortably with someone from another culture and treat them with respect. I’ve been running the training for four years and it keeps changing. I focus more now on more practical skills staff can use, thinking about cultural differences and communication.

Some staff might forget some people might have some very different health beliefs. And it’s important for staff not to get offended or take things personally. If a patient gets angry, it’s upsetting for staff – that’s understandable. This person might have been a child soldier at the age of 10, given a gun and told to kill or be killed. And when you’ve lived a life like that it might be difficult to stand in a queue for a long time, or wait in a hospital waiting room for a long time. So I just give staff
a bit of context about what these patients might have been through.

Is the demand for your expertise increasing?

The demand for training is growing. Staff are realising we are getting more and more culturally diverse patients through. I also work with asylum seekers, some in communities and others in detention, like those who were in the Pontville Detention Centre. I work with international students and we’re getting a lot of students through UTAS. I also work with polytechnic students. We also have a large number of people here on work visas. We get a few overseas tourists who forget to take out travel insurance. So staff are seeing larger and larger numbers of culturally diverse people coming through. I also run a caseload; I support people who have complex issues. I do a lot of advocacy for individual patients.

What do you enjoy about your position?

I really enjoy working with culturally diverse communities; it’s so rewarding to work with them. Often they’ve been through very difficult circumstances before they come to Tasmania. They are so grateful for the assistance I can provide them with here in the hospital. I love the job because I can really assist people to have better health outcomes during their start to a new life in Australia. I think it’s important to have that personal contact in the hospital because the hospital like any bureaucracy can seem big and the staff are often time poor without much time to explain things to patients in more detail or provide that emotional support. That’s the good thing about my role; I can provide a lot more support to people if they need it.

How did you become a Delegate?

It must be nine years now I’ve been a Delegate. I remember my first job when I was 20; one of my good friends really encouraged me to join the union. When I started working with Child Protection as a Social Worker the first thing I did was join the union. I was more than happy to be a Delegate because there was a lot of fear in the workplace. A lot of workers were frightened of standing up for what they
know is right, and for standing up for their own rights. I could see the workloads were too high; we couldn’t work satisfactorily with those children and achieve good outcomes given our high caseloads. There was so much fear – people were frightened of speaking up in case they lost their jobs. I don’t have that fear, I just think for me I’m committed to social justice and standing up for what’s right… sure job security is important but my number one priority is speaking up for people that don’t have a voice. In Child Protection it was only natural for me to put my hand up and become a Delegate. It was important for my colleagues as well and for the children that we were working with. If we had lower caseloads and more staff we were going to provide a better service.

What area do you cover as Delegate now?

In the hospital it’s a little bit different to Child Protection because there are a few different unions here. In the hospital there are also so many little pockets of workers. I cover the social work department mainly but if I have an opportunity to talk union business with others I’ll talk to them as well. The main thing I do is talk to some of the new employees and encourage them to join a union. We do have a lot of University of Tasmania students here on placement so I talk to them about the importance of joining a union as well.

What do you tell people about the union?

I tell people to join the union because they are often not happy with their work conditions. Sometimes they’re critical of unions and say unions aren’t doing enough for them. I say if you want to improve your workplace, if you want the unions to change in anyway, the only thing you can do is being in a union. Also that we have a more powerful, collective voice if you’re in a union, rather than if you’re just an individual in a workplace, especially in these difficult economic times, where job security is not as it was before. I think it’s really important to have that extra support and power that the union gives you.

What tips would you give other delegates?

My advice for new Delegates would be don’t be afraid to speak up. I’m still amazed how many people I hear say they’re not in the union “because no one asked me”. Be confident – you’ve chosen to be a Delegate because you’re proud of what the union does and you believe you can do positive things in the workplace. So don’t be afraid to speak up about that.

Is there a moment or two that stands out during your time as a Delegate?

I love rallies, I love protests. I can’t remember what year it was but there was a fantastic rally when I worked at Child Protection, I really enjoyed that. My colleagues and I spent a couple of days beforehand making banners. It was great to walk down the street and feel very proud of being in a union and to be there with my other workmates. Also it felt good because it was another way we could tell the government that we needed to be looked after better. Also I remember once we took industrial action at Child Protection. I found that very rewarding too because the government wasn’t listening to us and the only way we could make them listen was to take industrial action. Even though it was scary at the time it felt good because we could finally get them to listen to us. I really love the professional development I‘ve received over the years, training about how to be a good Delegate.

What do you enjoy outside work?

I play in a Samba band called Chicada, it’s like a street parade band and I love it. I also sing in the Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir, which I really love. We went to England last year and sang with Billy Bragg on stage in Tolpuddle. Historically Tolpuddle is seen as where the union movement was born because some workers took an oath together against a landlord to try and get more pay for potatoes and they were then transported to Australia including one to Tasmania for trying to set a union up. It’s important to have a creative outlet. I play a few instruments In Chicada, something called a tamborim – it’s a bit like a tambourine expect you hit it with a stick and then I play a big shaker, it’s a quite large one. Sometimes we’ll play for three hours. Playing my big shaker for a few hours is lots of fun. I also play the cow bells but we call them agogos in Spanish. We have a lot of fun we practice every Sunday for a few hours and we do a lot of street parades. I love it.

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