Since the end of March international media has reported repeatedly about the Swedish approach to Covid-19. Even if the Swedish government’s response is different than most other countries it’s not as if life goes on as normal. Secondary schools, universities and other education for adults are only done digitally. School social workers keep in touch with pupils through videocalls and phone but also physically if necessary. In health care, social workers have changed their work into to giving more support to other health workers but also to patients’ family members. In social services many social workers take turns in working from home to prevent the spreading of Covid-19 virus. Many municipalities have new recommendations when it comes to seeing clients physically, but several municipalities have focused more on elderly care than child protection, substance abuse and economic relief. The demand for economic assistance from social services has risen and will keep on rising during the coming months when people that have lost their jobs have finished their time of notice. The changed approach and downsizing of the Swedish Public Employment Service that was decided last year, goes on even if the number of people in need of their support are growing.
The association’s response
The Swedish IFSW-member The Union of Professionals (Akademikerförbundet SSR) is a trade union and a professional association for social workers and other professions within social sciences. The response and support from the association have been mostly regarding their rights as employees. We receive a lot of questions about what employers can demand of their employees and what their rights are if they risk losing their jobs. Working environment is another huge question when there is a lack of protection material all over the world. The government’s focus has been on supplying the health care system with masks, aprons and other protection gear which has left elderly care but also other parts of the social services with a lack of proper protection. The Union has a lot of members, some of the social workers, in the Public Employment Service and we have advocated in media that this it is not the time to downsize and change the organisation when we might reach the highest unemployment figures in decades. We have advocated against lowering the education criteria for working in child protection which is something that the employer organisation for municipalities raises every time there is a critical situation. We have also demanded to open up the criteria to receive the unemployment benefit and to give more economic support to municipalities and regions which the government later has decided on. The president of the Union has met with ministers to discuss the higher levels of violence against women and the need for more economic support to the municipalities.
How Covid-19 affect social workers
To support our representatives all over the country the Union provides podcasts, webinars and video supervision on labour rights and working environment issues. Several questionnaires have been sent out to different member groups in social work to find out how they are affected and what support the Union can give them. In Stockholm one third of the social workers in social services respond that Covid-19 has led to a higher workload but for a quarter of them the workload has sunken. Most of them can work from home but there are a lot of challenges in only seeing clients on a screen and keeping the secrecy when a whole family is working from home. The social workers assess that Covid-19 will lead to more violence in families, more mental illness and more substance and alcohol abuse.
Union of Professionals’ IFSW Representatives