Welcome to the April 15 edition of SafetyNet, a shorter edition due to the extra long weekend. And as we come back from this very strange Easter break and for Victoria, term one school holidays, the main issue is still, of course, Coronavirus and the effect on Australian society.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update
The infection rate has continued to 'flatten', and if the measures introduced are maintained, Australia may escape the deaths of thousands. At the time of posting, there had been 6400 cases of infection, 3598 has recovered, and 61 people had died.
7pm tonight! Live show: Coronavirus - working from home
Due to the coronavirus, and measures to control the infection, increasing numbers of workers have now been working from home. The members of the VTHC's OHS Unit certainly are! While this measure has been an important one in ensuring the rate of infection is reduced, it has created a number of challenges for those of us at home - health and safety and other challenges.
Join us tonight at 7pm on the We Are Union: OHS reps Facebook page, as Sam and Luke broadcast from three separate home studios (using that term very loosely) to discuss the OHS implications of working from home. Special guest will be Rose Steele from the ASU Victorian Private Sector Branch who will help them shed light on this hot topic.
Unions have argued the FWC should urgently consider the position of health workers who are required to personally attend people with COVID-19, or are at high risk of contracting the disease. This includes health and community sector jobs such as in disability services and aged care, where the risk of exposure, according to the ACTU, is "clearly elevated". Similar "presumptive" measures have been put in place for firefighters who acquire certain cancers, which are then deemed to have occurred in the course of their work.
We will keep readers informed of progress in this area.This week's Ask Renata:
International Workers’ Memorial Day or Workers’ Mourning Day is April 28. This is the international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. Not surprisingly, the international focus this year is the global COVID-19 pandemic.
'Virtual events' will take place all over the world in support of all the courageous workers who are putting their own health at risk by working with the ill, the elderly, providing essential goods and services, and in remembrance of the people who have died or become sick or injured while doing their job.
The VTHC will be live streaming an event through our We Are Union OHS Reps Facebook page which will be a combination of short speeches and videos to remember those killed in Victoria over the past year. We will provide updates in the upcoming editions of SafetyNet. For international news and events, check the ITUC 28 April Campaign website
Guidelines being developed could result in some pharmacy staff and people undertaking preliminary screening being advised not to wear any PPE at all, when able to avoid close contact with patients. PPE would instead be saved for those working in the highest-risk jobs, including cleaners in COVID-19 wards and maternity staff involved in births with women who could have the infectious disease. Healthcare workers are at an increased risk, with at least 157 Victorian healthcare workers have already been infected with coronavirus. Read more: Healthcare workers to be told who can and can't have protective equipment. The Age
This week's edition of the TUC's Risks ejournal also has items on the shortages healthcare workers are facing in the UK in the midst of that country's Coronavirus crisis: Health workers lose faith after PPE provision failures and Hospital staff 'left in tears' over lack of PPE.
Cancer Council Webinar: Supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
Workers injured in Malmsbury incident
There have been media reports that a worker at Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct was allegedly attacked by an inmate on Monday and taken to hospital. Ambulance Victoria said one male staff member had an upper body injury as a result of the incident and was taken to hospital in Bendigo. The staff member was allegedly kicked in the head. Two other staff were also hurt in the alleged attack.
The CPSU tweeted about the incident, which was confirmed by a spokesman for the Department of Justice. "Violent behaviour or assaults at youth justice centres are absolutely unacceptable, and the safety of staff and young people is of utmost importance," the spokesman said. Source: The Age
Workers Solidarity Bulletin
Workers Solidarity is an organisation made up of rank and file union members and officials which was formed to fight back against the attacks on workers. The organisation is open to all workers, and has been producing a very informative fortnightly bulletin. Over the past few weeks, the focus of the free publication has been, not surprisingly, the current Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect on workers, both in Australia and internationally. Each edition of the bulletin has an in-depth article on an issue: in this edition it looks at the world wide struggle of migrant and undocumented workers. Also in the bulletin is a list of worker demands in the Covid-19 crisis, developed through discussions with Australian and international unions and workers' organisations.
Access the latest edition, Edition number 13 here, where you can also access past editions and subscribe.
UK: Cancer care during the pandemic
In these unprecedented times, populations the world over have been confronted with a terrifying new reality that has unravelled daily routines, reordered national priorities and thrown into disarray virtually every aspect of human life. In the UK, the country with the world’s worst incidence of asbestos cancer, the treatment of patients with mesothelioma – the signature asbestos cancer – as well as other asbestos-related cancers and respiratory diseases was disrupted as hospitals geared up to prepare for the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Showing a breath-taking ability to adapt to changing circumstances, UK asbestos victim support groups and charities began devising ways to continue serving their communities, some of which are discussed in this article. Read more: Cancer Care during a National Emergency , IBAS
Eternit: Asbestos scandal
Groups representing asbestos victims in Brazil and Asia have joined international campaigners to denounce moves by Eternit S.A., formerly Brazil’s largest asbestos conglomerate, to temporarily restart asbestos processing in Goiás State in order to export 24,000 tonnes of asbestos to Asian countries. Commenting on this matter, President Eliezer João de Souza of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed said: “It is an abomination that Eternit should try and avoid the Supreme Court ban to inflict more toxic fiber on unsuspecting workers and communities in Asia.” Campaigner Sugio Furuya, representing the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, hopes “common sense will prevail and that all exports will be suspended.” Read more: ABREA media release [pdf]. Source: IBAS
Italy: Stephan Schmidheiny in the dock again
There was a small victory on January 24, 2020 in the long-standing battle to get justice for thousands of Italian asbestos victims when a Court in Vercelli in northern Italy ordered that Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, former owner of the Swiss Eternit asbestos group, face charges of voluntary murder (“omicidio volontario”) for the asbestos-related deaths of almost 400 people from the town of Casale Monferrato, the site of an Eternit asbestos-cement factory. The trial was scheduled to begin on November 27, 2020. Legal actions against the same defendant are also being pursued in other Italian jurisdictions over asbestos-related deaths of Eternit employees and local residents. Read more: IBAS
UK: Joint government, union and employer statement on COVID-19
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employers’ group the CBI and union peak council the TUC have issued an unprecedented joint call for employers to ensure safe working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak. The statement says those companies remaining open must take practical steps to minimise the threat of workers being exposed to the virus wherever possible – including enabling social distancing. The statement warns that if employers do not comply with the latest Public Health England guidance they face being hit with enforcement notices and potential closure. The joint appeal also encourages workers to raise any concerns about working conditions first with their employer or trade union. It notes that if concerns can’t be resolved locally, workers can approach the Health and Safety Executive or their local authority for help. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want businesses to get through this crisis and keep people in their jobs. But this must not come at the cost of safe working conditions. Employers and unions have a crucial role to play in stopping the spread of the virus, protecting our NHS and saving lives.”
Read more: TUC news release. CBI news release. HSE news release. Source: Risks 942
Burma: Garment factory workers demonstrate
On 3 April approximately 1500 garment workers from four factories in Yangon held a demonstration demanding that the factory owners temporarily close down the plants as a preventative measure to stop the spread of COVID-19 and give workers paid leave. More than 20,000 workers have lost their jobs in factories in Myanmar due to shortages of raw materials caused by the breakdown of global supply chains during the pandemic. Those who continue to work, despite a wide spread lockdown, are increasingly concerned about their health. A representative from the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma said “We are now demanding to negotiate with the boss. We are appealing to him to shut down the factory for the entire month of April and pay wages and salaries for this month.” Source: Workers Solidarity Bulletin
Global: Unions call for universal social protection fund
The international trade union confederation ITUC has called for a global fund to protect public health, social protection and jobs in poor nations. The call came after the global union body’s survey found that while wage protection and income support are provided in many G20 and OECD countries, working people in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas have lost jobs and incomes and could face widespread famine unless there is urgent global co-ordination and fiscal stimulus measures.
“While G20 governments have committed to a record stimulus of US$5 trillion, it risks excluding emerging and developing countries,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said. “We cannot just sit by and wait for the pandemic to attack countries in Africa and Latin America with the same ferocity that it has elsewhere without a plan of action. Fifty-seven per cent of governments surveyed in Africa and 35 per cent surveyed in the Americas are not providing wage protection and income support for workers. We must be prepared with all the tools at our disposal to support these countries – many of whom the world, including advanced economies, relies on for food and materials through global supply chains.”
The ITUC is calling for support for a Global Fund for Universal Social Protection for the poorest countries to support health care and income support, and for the IMF to co-ordinate fiscal stimulus, issue additional special drawing rights (SDRs), set up a Trust Fund into which advanced economies can re-allocate their holdings of SDRs, and earmark the Trust Fund for public health, social protection and jobs. “Only by working together with social dialogue between unions, employers and governments and the commitment for global co-ordination will people retain trust in governments. This is the basis for a post-pandemic future that leaves no one behind,” said Sharan Burrow.
Read more: ITUC news release, ITUC Global Covid-19 Survey key findings [pdf] and 7 April ITUC action round-up. Source: Risks 942
Working from Home: Opportunities and Risks
The Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work has released a briefing paper looking at the potential opportunities and risks of the recent Coronavirus 'inspired' increase in the number of workers working from home.
The paper says that when pre-virus norms resume, "it will be important for workers to maintain personal choice in the decision about whether to work from home, and to have the right to come into work when that is preferable". Workers should be able to reject working from home if it does not fit their needs, and in order to achieve this, "innovative" changes will be needed to awards, the NES and collective agreements.
"In recent years, emphasis has been placed on facilitating the rights of employees to request and have access to flexible work arrangements. After this pandemic, with likely pressure on many workers to keep working from home, the mirror-image entitlement will be required: namely, the right of workers to work at a formal, employer-provided workplace, rather than from their own home."
Issues that will need to be considered include allowances which take into account the increased costs to workers such as space, data charges, utilities charges, and so on. As discussed elsewhere, there are also occupational health and safety risks which need to be taken into account.
Read more: Working from Home: Opportunities and Risks [pdf], briefing paper by Alison Pennington and Jim Stanford, Centre for Future Work, April 2020 Source: Workplace Express. Information on Working from home.
WorkSafe Victoria news
New guidance on COVID-19
WorkSafe has issued new guidance for the healthcare sector: Prevention and Management of exposure to coronavirus in healthcare and social assistance
More charges laid over Campbellfield chemical fire
WorkSafe has laid more charges against Bradbury Industrial Services Pty Ltd over an explosion and chemical fire at a Campbellfield warehouse in April 2019. The new charges follow 35 charges already filed in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court in relation to alleged chemical stockpiles at other Bradbury sites in Campbellfield and Craigieburn.
The company, which is now in liquidation, has been accused of committing three offences under sections 21(2)(e) of the OHS Act and section 31C(1) of the Dangerous Goods Act.
WorkSafe alleges that Bradbury failed to provide workers at the Thornycroft Street site with the information, instruction, training and supervision they needed to perform their work safely and without risks to health. The company is also accused of failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent fire or explosion at the site in circumstances where it knew that that failure would endanger the safety or health of people, property or the environment. It is further alleged Bradbury failed to take reasonable precautions for the prevention of fire or explosion involving dangerous goods in its ownership, control or possession.
The latest charges have been listed for a filing hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 29 April 2020.
Source: WorkSafe media release
WA: Regulator reminds employers to reduce workers' risk of exposure on public transport
WorkSafe WA has reminded employers to take care of the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace and to protect them from exposure to coronavirus.
National Fatality Statistics
As of 9 April there had been 54 worker fatalities notified to the national body - a staggering eleven more since the previous update on 26 March. Three of these were in the construction sector, and also three in the manufacturing sector. We send our condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of these workers.
The fatalities this year have come from the following industries:
- 17 in Transport, postal & warehousing
- 12 in Construction
- 7 in Agriculture, forestry and fishing
- 5 in Public administration & safety
- 5 in Manufacturing
- 3 in Mining
- 2 in Arts & recreation services
- 1 in Accommodation & food services
- 1 in Retail trade
- 1 in 'other services'
To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Work-related fatalities webpage.
There have not been any updates to WorkSafe's page since the last edition, but to keep up to date with any new prosecutions before next week's edition, check the Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
Malaysia designates COVID-19 as occupational disease
Employees in Malaysia who are infected with COVID-19 due to direct exposure to the disease from their nature of work can now claim for compensation. Malaysia’s Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) has moved to clarify that COVID-19 is recognised as an occupational disease under the country’s Employment Social Security Act 1969.
“The Social Security Organisation recognises the impact of pandemics such as COVID-19 not only to the health of workers, but also to the financial, social and wellbeing of individuals and the nation,” said SOCSO in a Facebook post. “Workers may be affected due to their nature of work, which increased their risk to infection, such as frontline workers, or it may affect workers in relation to their employment, such as from exposure to infected persons while doing their work.”
Read more: Article in hrmasia
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh ..
The Bangladesh Occupational Health, Safety and Environment foundation (OSHE) in a press statement last week urged the government to declare the Covid-19 as an occupational disease under the labour law of the country.
OSHE said that at present more than a million of workers and employees in health service, waste recycling, food and medicine supply chain, readymade garments, tea plantation, mass media, bank and financial services etc. in Bangladesh continuing to serve at workplaces due to urgent national and commercial needs with potential health hazard and inadequate health and safety protection; and many of them potentially get infected with coronavirus at work and on the way to work or get back home during this pandemic period require necessary legal protection.
Repon Chowdhury, Executive Director of OSHE foundation said “this is very much a genuine and timely demand under the context of present reality in Bangladesh. COVID-19 needs to be declared as an occupational disease under the present national Labour law immediately through an official executive order by the government towards ensuring health and safety rights of the working population at workplaces passing time with the vulnerability and risk of Covid-19 infection”.
Urgent efforts are needed to ensure that vulnerable group of workers and employees with Covid-19 should have appropriate access to proper housing, with space for quarantine and social distancing while sleeping and eating, potable water and proper sanitation facilities on and off the job, free health care, safe transport, safe work practices and income protection.