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Connexus : Issue 36
"W e take a simple approach when members are affected by natural disasters," says Rowan Dowland, mecu's general manager, marketing and development. "Our instruction to our staff is to do whatever it takes." It's a statement that sums up how many mutuals responded to Australia's summer of floods, cyclones and fires. They reacted quickly, announcing hardship packages for members and paid leave for staff so they could attend to their own damaged homes and join volunteer clean-up efforts. Employees were encouraged to follow crisis plans and think on their feet as floods swept through large areas of the eastern states, inundating some branches and cutting power across swathes of Queensland. At CUA's high-rise head office near the Brisbane River, staff were locked out for almost two weeks after floodwaters inundated the basement car park and utility area and power was switched off. "Some found creative ways to work from home. Others worked in temporary accommodation," says CEO Chris Whitehead. "About 60 staff had flood damage to their own homes or those of close relatives, and we ensured that all staff who couldn't attend work were paid as normal throughout the period." Employees who found themselves with little to do were encouraged to join volunteer groups conducting the biggest clean-up Queensland has ever seen. "A lot of our people joined the state government's volunteer program," says Whitehead, who rushed back to Brisbane from a holiday in Japan when he heard about the crisis. As well as the floods, there were cyclones Anthony and Yasi, monsoonal rains over large parts of the continent and destructive bushfires in parched suburbs on the fringes of Perth. After Yasi's devastation of the Cassowary Coast, ECU Australia CEO Brett Myles had special praise for staff at the Mission Beach branch who were back at work as soon as generators were in place and the branch was able to reopen. "They were onsite again as soon as it was physically possible," he says. "The cyclone affected them all personally, but they showed up day after day in very trying conditions. As members came into the branch to talk about their experiences, it was wonderful to see how our staff are an integral part of the community." Hardship packages For struggling members across the mutual sector, financial relief was offered in a number of ways. Hardship packages typically included options to suspend home loan, personal RUSSELL SHAKESPEARE connexus 39 NATURAL DISASTERS "The cyclone affected [staff] personally, but they showed up day after day in very trying conditions." -- Brett Miles, CEO ECU Australia