Work doesn't stop for everyone this Christmas. More than a million workers in the UK each year must forgo time with their families over the holiday season because of work. Unite has tens of thousands of members making sacrifices over this holiday period. So whether you're working in the NHS, maintaining our roads and infrastructure, working for the emergency services, flying us off on holiday, serving us in bars and restaurants or taking care of our loved ones - season's greetings to all and thank you from everyone at Unite
Unite members #WorkingAtChristmas
More than a million workers in the UK each year must forgo time with their families over the holiday season because of work. In our series on working over Christmas, Unite pays tribute to members who, thanks to their sacrifices, make holidays safe for the rest of us to enjoy.
First Unite speaks to Ian Evans, a biomedical scientist who does blood tests among other duties. Ian has been working for the NHS since 1996 and typically works over Christmas.
“We provide a 24/7 service and this of course includes the holidays,” he explains. “It can be a stressful job. The hours are long and when we work overnight there’s a lot of lone working. “On a typical day the lab is manned by about 300 people but overnight it’s down to a skeleton crew of three or so people so you can’t take breaks – there’s no time to wind down.”
Biomedical scientists play a critical role – in fact, the health service would not be able to function without them, as 80 per cent of health care decisions are based on information gleaned from lab tests. This can add to the stress of the job, Ian explains.
“There’s an enormous sense of responsibility,” he says. But this is also what makes the job rewarding. It’s a very mentally stimulating job and you know what you’re doing makes a real difference,” Ian notes. “When patients are given a physical exam they may by all appearances seem well on the outside but there may be something terribly wrong on the inside. This is what we do essentially – we identify what people can’t see.”
Over Christmas, the work he does is largely the same as on other days but he says it’s often quieter. However, accidents and emergencies happen throughout the year – they don’t stop for Christmas – so that’s when the pressure ramps up.
“You’ll have staff who are literally in the middle of their Christmas dinner and will drop everything if there’s an emergency to come in,” Ian explains.
He believes it’s important for those who do enjoy time with their families during the holiday season to recognise the hard work of the just over one million people who must work over Christmas.
“Whether its workers in the public or private sector, they make huge sacrifices to ensure other people can enjoy Christmas at home safely. Sometimes it’s not until people actually need to use a service at Christmas that they realise just how dedicated these workers are – in this instances they are truly grateful.
“But even if you don’t have an emergency or need to use a service over Christmas, I think it’s important we reflect and give thanks to each and every one of these workers.”
Ian sends a message of thanks and solidarity to all Unite members.
Unite members #WorkingAtChristmas
Jamie Bramwell is a highway maintenance operative who works in the north west for the firm Balfour Beatty. He’s been keeping motorways safe for the last 15 years – and for 11 of these years he’s worked over Christmas.
“It’s sad to miss out on family and friends over Christmas but it’s gotten easier now that my children – who are 12 and 15 – have gotten a bit older,” he explains. “There have been times when our schedules allow us to nip home on Christmas morning before we have to go straight back to work.”
Jamie says the work he does is enjoyable because no one day is the same – one day he’ll be gritting roads when it snows, the next he’ll be dealing with animals on the road, and another day he’ll be called out after a diesel spill.
“What we do is largely reactionary so on a typical Christmas I could be doing any number of things,” he explains. It can be especially challenging when the temperature drops and you have to work outside in challenging weather,” he adds. “It can also be frustrating when drivers don’t take care when the roads are slippery – we do all we can to make the roads safe but that doesn’t mean you can drive normally when weather conditions are bad.”
Jamie adds that he and his colleagues have a deep sense of duty toward the motoring public – so much so that it can be hard to turn down work when they’re called on to do so even on their days off. Jamie says he wishes workers such as those in highway maintenance got more credit for the work that they do over Christmas.
“Doctors, firemen and policemen, nurses and others all rightly get the credit that they deserve – but sometimes I feel as though we aren’t always properly acknowledged. Hundreds of thousands of people hit the road over Christmas in the UK and it’s thanks to us that they can travel to see their families safely.”
Jamie wishes all a very happy Christmas and urges Unite members to look to the new year as one of renewed worker solidarity: “Let’s all stick together.”
Unite members #WorkingAtChristmas
Paul McQuade is a dedicated ambulance worker who’s worked for the ambulance service for nearly three decades, and as a paramedic for the last 16 years. He’s among the more than one million workers who give up time with family and friends over the holidays to be the first port of call in an emergency. He’s been working over Christmas for the last eight years – except for one year when he was ill, next year will be his first Christmas off.
The stress inherent in his job goes without saying – Paul must interact with patients and their friends and family when they are at their lowest point physically and emotionally.
If for example he’s called to a road accident, he must tend to people whose lives may very well be at risk.
“You have to make split second decisions that could really mean the difference between life and death,” Paul explains. “You have to interact and work closely with police and fire crew.”
Working over Christmas, Paul explains, can be different from other times of the year when he works.
“In many ways, it really is a sad day because we find lots of people who are out on their own when we’re called out,” he notes. “You’ll speak with relatives who don’t see their loved ones all year then they have to deal with an emergency or tragedy. Then on the opposite end you tend to people who’ve been out enjoying themselves – often enjoying themselves a bit too much.”
While Paul says he has certainly missed out on the many years he’s had to work over Christmas, he’s gotten used to it and spends time with friends and family on other days during the festive period.
“It’s important that people acknowledge and pay tribute to all the workers who put their lives on hold to make sure everyone can enjoy a safe and happy Christmas,” Paul says.
He urges all Unite members to enjoy the festive period and stay safe.
“No matter what you might be doing on Christmas day – even if you’re working – try your best to enjoy it.”
These are just three examples of Unite members working over the Christmas period,
check out UNITElive for the full series and whether you are at work,
home or elsewhere, here's wishing season’s greetings to all from Unite