I have been working for On-Focus Inc, a disability support organisation at Casino in Northern NSW since May 1998. I have a daughter with spina bifida – she’s 22 now – and an ageing mother.

I have been here now for seven and a half years and wouldn’t have been here that long if it wasn’t a good place to work. My employer Vivienne Phillips has been very supportive of my situation.

My main issue as a working carer is needing to take time off work. On various occasions I have had to travel to Sydney with my daughter or with my mother for operations.

This has never been a problem. I have worked up extra time so I could take it off when I needed it, or taken annual leave. This option, as well as being able to swap shifts, is available to all staff whether in the office or as support staff. When I had to stay longer than expected for my mum’s operation in Sydney, I called Vivienne and I was able to take as many days as needed. I don’t work Mondays so I try to make appointments then but sometimes it’s unavoidable and I have to take time off during the week.

In the past I have needed to go to my daughter’s school and there was never a question at work as to why I needed to take time off.

I’m in an ideal position at work. Because of the concessions made to me, I feel that I give more than I would otherwise. I feel guilty when I take time off but it’s give and take – I work hard. Vivienne often says I work over and above what is needed.

Vivienne and Fiona (who steps in when Vivienne is away) are very approachable. They understand we all have family and they have to give some leniency to the staff to get more in return. This flexibility is available to all staff.

No-one else can do my job so, if I’m away, the work piles up for when I return. I am the payroll officer but I would never allow staff not to get paid. Once I had to do the work from a distance. When I was in Sydney for a hospital visit for my daughter, staying at my sister’s place, the office faxed the timesheets to me and I talked Vivienne through the pay process over the phone.

There is extra support here – all the staff have access to a counsellor if they are stressed about anything to do with their work or home life. The organisation pays for four counselling sessions which is great. I haven’t had to take up this offer, but a couple of admin staff have organised to have a massage twice a year which is a great stress relief for us. The organisation pays for that.

I’m also able to access the Internet at work, which is really helpful. I recently downloaded a lot of Aboriginal art posters from the Internet and put them up all around the office which is great. Vivienne has asked me to go to a local Aboriginal art exhibition and make a recommendation for the purchase of an original artwork for the office. I feel very accepted here; my Aboriginality is not an issue.

I also had great support from the Army in Sydney where I worked when my daughter was born. The Aboriginal pre-school I worked at later in Walgett was also very supportive. One other place I worked at in Sydney was not so supportive when my daughter was young. I needed to go to the hospital a lot and they expected more work in return than I thought was necessary.

In the last 20 years employers have come a long way. The family commitments I have to do as a working carer are not frowned on today as they would have been in the past. It’s a good working environment at On-Focus Inc. both in the office and out in the field for the other staff. We get little rewards – every year we get a certificate to acknowledge our service and to congratulate us and there is always a thank you for a job well done. We do social activities as a group and that boosts staff morale. Everyone participates and they wouldn’t do it if they weren’t happy in their work.

Michele Ward, working carer, Northern NSW