Solidarity will get us through

Since the introduction of the coronavirus measures, I have filled in the University of Antwerp’s COVID-19 survey on a weekly basis. It’s objective is to determine how the Belgian population is feeling and behaving during the crisis. I consider each new survey on Tuesdays as a moment of (self-)reflection. I’m not so much interested in the questions about compliance with the social distancing measures as in the impact on our income and emotional wellbeing.

This weekly introspection has taught me to look differently at myself and my relation with my loved ones and colleagues. After all, the situation we are currently in also impacts our professional relationships. As a coach, I am more than ever aware of the importance of online group contacts as numerous colleagues who are working from home haven’t seen each other for a long time. Individual conversations with team members have also taken on a new significance.

The contacts between ACV employees and members have also taken on a new dimension and make our work all the more meaningful. We do more than just provide legal advice and answer questions. The circumstances have forced us to listen even more attentively and become even more engaged in the challenges our members are facing: temporary unemployment, teleworking while caring for children, imposed wage cuts, imminent layoffs, etc. As one of my colleagues put it: “We can mean so much to our members! The workload is considerable, but a phone call to a co-worker or member certainly makes a big difference. And that is very satisfying!”

To make an actual difference or to contribute to a warmer working environment, I can do little more than coach my colleagues. That’s frustrating because it’s not enough. I am concerned about the income and wellbeing of lots of people. That is why I have consistently and consciously included a call for action in the survey’s empty field every Tuesday. A call for action to take structural measures on behalf of those who are most vulnerable in our society.

We are all vulnerable in some way or another. The theory that hard work always pays off has been debunked. No-one is immune for income loss or restructuring, unemployment or psychological problems. This has always been the case and will remain so in the future. If you believe otherwise, you’re in for a rude awakening.

The only appropriate answer is institutionalised solidarity. It’s true that is costly. Every month, I can see this on my pay slip in the form of taxes that help fund healthcare, childcare and other necessities. And in the form of the social security contributions that finance sickness and unemployment allowances, pensions and parental leave.
I realise now more than ever that this is my contribution to a humane society, every day, every week and every month. Year in, year out.

Sandra Vercammen