SafetyNet 603

Welcome to the December 1 edition of SafetyNet.

In another tragic week as we approach the holiday break, three Victorian workers lost their lives.

Visit our We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for news, memes and more. If you have any questions or need any advice, we can be reached via the Ask Renata facility on the website or through the closed OHS Network Facebook page. If you have comments or want to send through any ideas, email us at [email protected]

Union News

Three workers die in the past week

In another very bad week, three Victorian workers have lost their lives since our last journal.

At about 2pm on Wednesday November 24, the 61-yr-old driver of a log forwarder was killed after he lost control of the vehicle going down a steep hill on a farm at Nariel Valley, south of Corryong. WorkSafe believes he was ejected from the vehicle as it rolled over multiple times

The second fatality occurred on the evening of Friday November 26. A 34-yr-old truck driver was crushed to death following an incident involving a road safety barrier near Nar Nar Goon. WorkSafe's initial investigations suggest that metal and concrete barriers, each weighing about 930kg, were being unloaded from the driver's truck at about 7pm when one fell and struck him.

These two fatalities bring the number of Victorian workers killed this year to 55. 

The third death was that of a night shift nurse in the emergency department of the Angliss Hospital, located in Ferntree Gully in Melbourne's outer east who died as a result of contracting COVID-19.  

Lisa Fitzpatrick, the Victorian secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said it was believed the nurse was the first Victorian-based hospital worker to die from the virus. Ms Fitzpatrick said the union believed she contracted COVID-19 while at work. WorkSafe is investigating whether this is the case. 

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the families, friends and work colleagues of the two men. No worker should die at work. Mourn the dead, fight like hell for the living. 

Nurse run down at Collingwood COVID testing site

Police have arrested a man in Carlton over an alleged hit-and-run crash at a COVID-19 testing site in inner-Melbourne on Tuesday morning.

Emergency services were called to the corner of Easey and Hoddle streets about 9.25am after reports a white Holden station wagon hit a pedestrian then fled the scene.

An Ambulance Victoria spokesperson said the man, a Cohealth testing clinic worker who had been helping clients queuing for a COVID test, had injuries to his upper and lower body and was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The testing clinic will remain closed until Thursday.

Police are still investigating the circumstances of the crash and said the man was assisting with inquiries.

Coronavirus Update 

New variant of concern - Omicron

On 26 November, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated a new COVID-19 strain, known as B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern and named it Omicron. Omicron joins Delta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma on the current WHO list of variants of concern.

Researchers spotted the variant in genome-sequencing data from Botswana. The Omicron variant has a large number of mutations compared with previous variants, more than 30 of which are in the spike protein – the 'key' used by the virus to enter the body’s cells. The large number of mutations has raised concerns that the antibodies from previous infections or vaccination may no longer be well matched. Experts are saying, however, that it is likely that some residual immunity, for example from T-cells, will remain.

In response to the emergence of Omicron, many countries, including Australia, have introduced restrictions and/or limited entry to people who have spent time in several southern African countries. The reality is, however, that by the beginning of this week, Omitron cases had been identified in many other countries. Since the announcement of the first cases in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong earlier this week, additional cases have been reported in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, the UK and Australia. All of these cases were in individuals who had recently arrived from South Africa, Mozambique or Egypt.

Latest figures December 1

Victoria: The number of new infections daily remains stubbornly around the 1,000 mark, but the good news is the number of active infections, and hospitalisations are coming down.

  • Active cases on Wednesday December 1: 11,959
  • New cases reported: 1,179
  • Hospitalised: 229, in ICU: 43; on ventilators: 18
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 1,337  
  • Vaccination rate: 90.74 per cent double vaccinated;  93.32 per cent one shot (over 12)

Note that the numbers of active cases, and those in hospital, in ICU and on ventilators, are coming down. 

Check the Victorian situation here

Australia: 

  • Total cases: 210,237 (200,651 on November 24).
  • Total COVID-19 related deaths: 2,006. 
  • Vaccination levels: 
  • 86.99 per cent double vaccinated; 92.42  per cent one shot. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age

Worldwide: 

  • Total cases: 262,993,505 (258,912,113 last week).
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 5,232,282  

(Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

Have you missed out on the VTHC's COVIDSafe training sessions? 

There are two more COVIDSafe training courses to be run at this stage. The sessions will be capped at 40 participants per course due to the interactive nature of the workshops. 

These sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs and are highly popular so we encourage you to RSVP as quickly as you can to ensure that you have a space. Register by clicking on the date you'd like to attend. 

Do you have a specific question about Covid-Safety in your workplace? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your union, or submit an inquiry through the Covid-Safe Workplaces website.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata,

I am a new HSR at my workplace. I have requested a list of the members of my DWG, but my employer has refused to provide this to me. Is there a requirement in the Act for my employer to provide the full list of the DWG members to me as the HSR?

I am astounded by this question! What an absurd situation! How can a person be elected or represent the DWG members if they don’t know who is in that DWG?

Section 44(2) of the Act requires the employer to give written notice to employees once negotiations for DWGs lead to agreement. As the negotiations must take into account what the grouping of employees in each DWG is, this notice would need to include who is in which DWG. Given that once the DWGs have been established, it is up to the DWG members to determine how they will elect their HSR/s, it is clear that there must be a list of who is in what DWG. Otherwise the election process, including a call for nominations for the available positions, could not possibly be open and fair.

Most importantly, the role of the HSR is to consult with their DWG members and to represent them on any OHS related issues they may have. How would it be possible for an HSR to do this if they don't know who is in the DWG?? 

Finally, Section 59 of the Act only allows an HSR to exercise their powers in respect to members of their DWG... how could they ensure they are doing this if they don't know who is in their DWG. This section does allow the HSR to represent members in DWGs other than their own in certain circumstances - again, if they don't know who is or who isn't in their own DWG... 

Go back to your employer and request the list of members in writing. If they refuse, contact your union or WorkSafe.

If you have any OHS-related questions send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. Your questions will be answered by Renata or one of the other members of the VTHC's OHS Unit.  

HSRs invited to our End of Year Party

HSRs work tirelessly to keep workers across Victoria safe. It's been a huge year and to celebrate everything we've achieved we're going to have an end of year party! And we can finally meet face-to-face!

The VTHC OHS Unit is inviting HSRs and DHSRs to our End of Year event on December 15.

This will be an opportunity not only to catch up with each other, but also find out about all the fabulous things the union movement has achieved in the OHS space the past two years, and what is coming up in 2022. There will be food and drink, so join us. 

When: 6pm - 8pm. Wednesday, December 15
Where: 'Loading Bay' - Victorian Trades Hall Council, corner of Victoria and Lygon Street, Carlton
RSVP (essential for catering purposes!): Click here 

Lives in Limbo: Australia's broken temporary migration system

A Migrant Workers Centre survey of over 700 temporary visa holders has revealed the urgent need for more pathways to permanent residency.

The findings, which also draw on over 50 in depth interviews, are presented in the new report Lives in Limbo: The Experiences of Migrant Workers Navigating Australia’s Unsettling Migration System and reveal a broken migration system that sets workers up for exploitation and perpetual uncertainty.

Key findings show:

  • 65 per cent of temporary visa holders have experienced wage theft and 1-in-4 have also experienced other forms of labour exploitation
  • Extremely high levels of stress, the highest being among those on employer-sponsored visas
  • A link between workplace exploitation and temporary visa status whereby 91 per cent of workers who experienced wage theft arrived on a visa with no pathway to permanent residency
  • On average, it takes workers 5.1 years to acquire PR with the longest wait time being 13 years
  • Loopholes in visa programs such as employer sponsored visas which leave workers vulnerable to exploitative bosses and visa scams, and often tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

The Migrant Workers Centre urgently calls on the Australian Government to increase the proportion of permanent visas issued, introduce maximum wait times to visa processing, replace employer sponsorship with a State-/Territory-sponsorship system for permanent residency, and protect migrant worker whistle-blowers.

Matt Kunkel, CEO of the Migrant Workers Centre, said “The nation’s migration program has structurally brewed a population of precarious workers. Strengthening pathways to permanent residency will provide social and economic benefits to all workers in Australia.” Read more: MWC media release [pdf]. Lives in Limbo: Navigating Australia’s Unsettling Migration System [pdf]

Asbestos news

Trades Hall Asbestos Awareness Week resources

Last week was National Asbestos Awareness Week and the VTHC produced a number of great resources you may not have caught up with yet:

  • Live Show with special guests Simone Stevenson and Peter Clark. This was a really great live show, and our guests provided a lot of very useful and interesting information.
  • A second video: Gillian, a teacher, talks of how her father contracted mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos at work. He was an energetic retiree and active member of the community, the  asbestos exposure from 40 years before caught up with him. Gillian has shared her dad's story, in the hopes of saving others from experiencing the pain he did. 
  • A video with HSR Cameron McCormick (a finalist for WorkSafe's HSR of the Year) who successfully negotiated a safe outcome when asbestos was found in his school when renovations were due to begin. Cameron advises that where there's asbestos in the workplace, you can't just 'do nothing'. 
  • A fabulous Asbestos Register Checklist which makes it easy for HSRs (and others) to check that their employer (or the person with management and control of the workplace if this is not the employer) is complying with their duty to have an up to date and well-maintained register. 

Check them out on the Asbestos Awareness Week campaign page.

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.  

Did you miss our UV Safety Training Webinar?  

Our UV Safety Training Webinar was a big success but we know not everyone who wanted to attend, could attend. Don't fear, we have information on our website about UV, including an action plan for HSRs. Click here to visit our website and keep your workplace UV safe.  

An important part of staying UV safe is monitoring the UV you and your coworkers are exposed to every day. Download our UV safety poster to hang in your workplace.

Union body urges government to address harassment after Parliamentary Workplaces review released

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins this week launched Set the Standard, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.

Set The Standard is the result of seven months of deep engagement with current and former staff and parliamentarians from across all parliamentary workplaces. With more than 1700 individual contributions via interviews, submissions, and survey responses, this report represents a comprehensive understanding of the culture within Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. These include Parliament itself and 227 electorate offices across the country. It found that 1 in 3 workers have experienced sexual harassment 

Commissioner Jenkins said: “Over half (51 per cent) of all people currently in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces (CPWs) have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault in a CPW. That is unacceptably high.

“A lack of clear standards of conduct, limited accountability and power imbalances, combine with the high-intensity, high stakes nature of the work, the pursuit of political power and advantage, the frequent blurring of personal and professional life and the intense loyalty to political parties to create specific risk factors unique to this workplace."

Commissioner Jenkins said, "Throughout this Review, we heard that these workplaces are not always safe environments for many people within them.” She added that the review found that current systems encouraged, tolerated and enabled misconduct, together with processes "that are not equipped to prevent or address the consequences of that behaviour".

The report makes 28 recommendations that are designed to support all parts of the parliament to perform at their best and bring these workplaces into line with the standards expected of all Australian workplaces. The report sets out five key shifts required to ensure safe and respectful work environments in Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces in the areas of:

  1. Leadership
  2. Diversity, equality and inclusion
  3. Systems to support performance
  4. Standards, reporting and accountability
  5. Safety and wellbeing

ACTU President Michele O’Neil, said “Faced with appalling details of the dangerous culture in federal parliament the Prime Minister refused to accept responsibility and refused to answer questions about the dozens of recommendations from the [email protected] report which his Government have not addressed. Read more: Australian Human Rights Commission media release; Full Set the Standard report; ACTU media release 

Report into Ambulance Victoria finds over half experienced bullying

Ambulance Victoria last year engaged the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to complete an independent review into workplace equality in the service, following reports of alleged discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation and bullying in the organisation.

Volume One of the Final Report was published on November 30. 

The Report details widespread reports of incivility, disrespect, discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation, and presents 24 recommendations detailing changes that can be actioned immediately by Ambulance Victoria to begin rebuilding a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace.

Over the course of the Review, the Commission examined 1,213 documents, conducted interviews with 255 people and spoke to many more staff across a series of focus groups, site-visits and observational shifts. 2,163 people completed the Commission’s in-depth survey and 145 written submissions were received.

From the 2163 people who responded to the Commission’s survey, it was found that:

  • 47.2 per cent of survey respondents reported experiencing discrimination;
  • 17.4 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment;
  • 52.4 per cent reported experiencing bullying; and
  • 34.5 per cent reported experiencing victimisation.

A statement released yesterday states: "Ambulance Victoria deeply regrets the harm suffered by our people, past and present, as a result of discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, and victimisation.

"Ambulance Victoria has accepted all the recommendations in the report and the CEO and Executive team are committed to implementing these reforms to create a workplace based on safety, equality, respect, and trust at Ambulance Victoria."
Read more: VEOHRC Statement (including video of the Commissioner) and Report Workplace Equality in Ambulance Victoria [pdf]; AV statement 

 


Research

Vaccine alone is not enough

International experts have concluded COVID-19 vaccination alone is not sufficient to stem the pandemic. Their evidence review, published on 18 November in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), concludes several personal protective and social measures, including mask wearing and physical distancing, are associated with reductions in the incidence COVID-19 and should be continued alongside vaccination.

The researchers, from universities in Scotland, Australia and China, trawled databases for studies that assessed the effectiveness of public health measures in reducing the incidence of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 transmission (the virus responsible for the disease), and COVID-19 mortality.

In total, 72 studies met their inclusion criteria, of which 35 evaluated individual public health measures and 37 assessed multiple public health measures. Results from 8 of these 35 studies were analysed in detail, which indicated a statistically significant 53 per cent reduction in the incidence of COVID-19 with mask wearing and a 25 per cent reduction with physical distancing.

Detailed analysis was not possible for other measures, including quarantine and isolation, universal lockdowns, and closures of borders, schools, and workplaces, due to differences in study design, outcome measures and quality. The paper concludes: “It is likely that further control of the COVID-19 pandemic depends not only on high vaccination coverage and its effectiveness but also on ongoing adherence to effective and sustainable public health measures.”
Source: Risks 1023. Read more: 


Regulator News

Victorian news

WorkSafe Awards finalist announced

Twenty-three finalists have been short-listed for the 2021 WorkSafe Awards. The regulator received more than 180 nominations from across Victoria for the seven award categories, which recognise excellence in workplace health and safety and return to work.

Finalists include health and safety representatives, people who have returned to work after injury, and businesses across industries such as health care, transport, construction, and farming.

WorkSafe Chief Executive Officer Colin Radford said it was wonderful to see the strength of entries in the Health and Safety Representative of the Year category, as well as in the new award for 2021, Commitment to Workplace Health and Safety on a Farm. "We wanted to shine a light on the outstanding work of HSRs representing Victorian workers, as well as achievements in farm safety, including innovations that save time and lives," he said.

Health and Safety Representative of the Year

  • Adrian Lidsey and Christopher Ball (Crown Melbourne, Southbank and UWU members)
  • Cameron McCormick (University High School, Parkville and a member of the AEU)
  • Alyce Dickson (Barwon Health, Geelong and a member of the ANMF)

Operator charged after car wash fatality

WorkSafe has charged a service station operator, Chevron Australia Downstream Fuels Pty Ltd, following the death of a customer using an automatic car wash at Springvale in November 2019.  

The 73-year-old Mulgrave man had driven into the car wash before walking out to re-enter an access code. As the man attempted to get back into his vehicle he was crushed when the wash cycle started and his car door was struck by a gantry. He died from his injuries in hospital three days later.

WorkSafe has charged the company with four breaches of section 26(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to ensure a workplace was safe and without risks to health.

The regulator alleges Chevron failed to:

  • Erect signs instructing car occupants not to leave their vehicle while the car wash was in operation.
  • Fit anti-collision bars or other controls to detect impending contact between the car wash's moving parts and obstacles present in the wash bay.
  • Remove protruding brackets from inside the gantry legs.
  • Install boom gates that would only allow entry to the wash bay after a valid access code was entered.

The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 2 December 2021.

Reminders:

1 - Communicating OHS across languages compliance code -  public comment closing soon

The public comment period for WorkSafe’s proposed Communicating occupational health and safety across languages compliance code will close at 5pm on Monday 6 December, 2021. This new code will provide guidance for those who have duties or obligations under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations to communicate OHS matters in appropriate languages. For more information or to make a submission prior to 5pm Monday visit Engage Victoria's website.

2- Lead compliance code – public comment closing soon 

The public comment period for WorkSafe’s proposed Lead compliance code will close at 5pm on Monday 6 December, 2021 . This new code will help employees and employers undertaking lead processes and lead-risk work to more easily comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017. For more information or to make a submission prior to 5pm Monday visit Engage Victoria’s website.

3 - Webinars on horticultural safety

There are still two webinars which will be run by WorkSafe and Agriculture Victoria, the Labour Hire Authority, the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) to assist growers in protecting themselves and their workers against OHS risks.

The remaining virtual sessions will run from 4-5pm on 8 December 2021 and 19 January 2022. Farmers are welcome to attend all three sessions to keep up with the latest information. Register for the webinars hereRead more: WorkSafe media release 

4 - WorkSafe Fact Sheets:

  1. Employee psychosocial fact sheet: Work-related violence 

  2. Psychosocial Hazard Fact Sheet: Work-related violence.
    This guidance provides employers with information about their duties to identify, assess, and control hazards and risks associated with work-related violence. It also provides information on preventing and responding to incidents of work-related violence.

National news 

National Fatality Statistics 2021  

Safe Work Australia updated its statistics on fatalities on November 25, at which time it had been notified that 122Australian workers had been killed at work this year. This is four since the previous update on November 11. Fatalities have been in the following sectors:

  • 41 in Transport, postal & warehousing 
  • 22 in Agriculture, forestry & fishing
  • 18 in Construction
  • 12 in Manufacturing
  • 7 in Mining
  • 5 in Arts & recreation services
  • 5 in Public administration & safety
  • 3 in Electricity, gas, water & waste services
  • 2 in Other Services 
  • 2 in Retail trade
  • 1 in Wholesale trade
  • 1 in Accommodation & food services
  • 1 in Education & training
  • 1 in Administrative & support services
  • 1 in Healthcare & social assistance

These figures are based mainly on initial media reports and provide a preliminary estimate of the number of people killed while working. Once the appropriate authority has investigated the death, more accurate information becomes available from which Safe Work Australia updates details of the incident, consequently sometimes the numbers of deaths in each sector change. To check for updates, and for more details on fatalities since 2003, go to the Safe Work Australia Preliminary worker deaths webpage. Updated information is used to publish Safe Work Australia’s annual Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities database which includes finalised work-related fatalities from 2003 onwards. Note that the figures are based on preliminary reports, and so at times will change. 


Prosecutions

Education Department fined $200,000 over the death of 7 year-old 

Victoria's Department of Education and Training was last week convicted and fined over the tragic death in 2018 of a seven-year-old whose wheelchair tipped over at the bottom of a ramp at a special school.

The department was sentenced in the Melbourne County Court after earlier pleading guilty to two charges of failing to ensure that people other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $1.5 million. The Department's guilty plea came after magistrate Pauline Spencer dismissed its application in January to have the case remain in the lower court where penalties are lower. Ms Spencer said the case was too serious and had to be heard in the County Court.

The court heard the student had severe physical and intellectual disabilities and it was routine for teachers to wheel him outside and between classrooms. 

On the day of the incident, the child and other students were lining up at the classroom door to go outside, with a student holding on to the wheelchair. As the classroom teacher and teacher’s aide were dealing with a separate behavioural incident, the student teacher was asked to begin moving the students out of the classroom - but let go of the wheelchair when the door opened,  and it moved quickly down the ramp. It tipped over at the bottom of the ramp; the student hit his head on the concrete landing, and tragically died in hospital four days later.

A WorkSafe investigation found the ramp, which did not sit flush with the concrete, failed to meet safety standards; the student teacher was not given an induction on the students' special needs; and teaching staff were not properly trained in the student’s supervision and mobility requirements.

The court heard it was reasonably practicable for the department to professionally assess the construction and maintenance of all ramps at the school and to provide instruction and training to staff on the student's care requirements.
Read more: WorkSafe media release; The HeraldSun 

To check for more Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 

UK Prosecutions

'Bittersweet justice' as firms fined after worker froze to death

The family of a security guard who froze to death at a construction site when he was snowed in have said they now have justice after two companies were fined almost £900,000 (AD$1.68 m) for criminal health and safety failings. Ronnie Alexander was on duty at Afton wind farm in East Ayrshire, in January 2018 during bad weather. The 74-year-old was found lying in the snow and later died in hospital from hypothermia.

Northstone NI Ltd and Corporate Service Management were fined a total of £868,800 (AD$1.62 m) at Ayr Sheriff Court, the Crown Office said, after previously pleading guilty to criminal failings under health and safety laws. In a statement, Mr Alexander’s family welcomed the fine but added “ultimately is it all bittersweet because at the end of the day we are still without Ronnie and no punishment can change that.” The Crown Office said Northstone, which was handed a £768,000 (AD$1.43 m) fine, ran the remote site and there were two generators which were set up to provide heating and electricity – both of which had broken a number of times and had not been replaced. There was no back-up generator. With no landline service and limited mobile phone coverage, an internet phone system was used which required a password and power from the generator, the Crown Office said.

Corporate Service Management, which was fined £100,800 (AD$188,280), provided guards for the site but had not given them the passwords and the guards had no access to the internet phone. The Crown Office said that despite knowing about the lack of signal, the company expected guards to use their personal mobiles in an emergency.
Read more: HSE news release. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 1023

Repeat offender director jailed for ignoring HSE notices

A director of a former car salvage company in Wales has been jailed for a year after failing to comply with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforcement notices.

Newport Crown Court heard that between 2018 and 2021, Tahir Karim was in control of activities and those working at Long Life Spares in Llanbradach, Caerphilly. During this time he failed to comply with four enforcement notices, including immediate stop work prohibition notices. The notices had been served in relation to the use of unsafe forklift trucks and structural safety issues affecting the site. An investigation by HSE found in addition to Karim allowing the continued use of unsafe forklifts, a bridge on the site which was assessed months earlier as at risk of collapse was still in use, with vehicles and people walking and driving underneath it daily. And part of a ‘dangerous’ 250m long retaining wall along the length of the property which had previously collapsed on to the site’s access road remained a serious risk.

The court heard Karim was aware of the risks and yet still directed workers to act in a way that contravened the prohibitions and risked their own safety. The company director pleaded guilty to four offences under section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. HSE inspector Sian Donne commented: “We do not tolerate disregard for health and safety and consider the non-compliance of HSE enforcement notices as a serious offence.” In the period from 13 November 2017 to 13 December 2018, Karim was served by HSE with six prohibition notices and eight improvement notices for criminal breaches of safety law, the regulator’s enforcement database show. 
Read more: HSE news release. South Wales Argus. Source: Risks 1023


International news

Global: COVID-19 has hit migrant workers harder

The COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on migrant workers all over the world, in particular those employed in precarious low-wage sectors, who were often the first to experience the economic shock of the pandemic, according a new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Locked down and in limbo: The global impact of COVID-19 on migrant worker rights and recruitment reports that many migrant workers had their employment summarily suspended or terminated as the virus spread, or suffered a dramatic fall in income. Some were stranded due to lockdowns and border closures, while others were suddenly repatriated, without operational systems and protocols in place. In some instances, public health law was used to justify their expulsion.

The ILO is calling for migrant workers to be included in all COVID-related health and recovery packages and services. Specific recommendations in the report include the implementation of Occupational Safety and Health measures on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals, and ensuring protection from gender-based violence and harassment at work. The UN body also says policies should ensure migrant workers do not pay recruitment fees or related costs - including those related to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, vaccination, vaccination certification and quarantine. ILO also calls for an increase in inspection and government oversight of recruitment practices and measures to ensure that recruitment associations disseminate information about health and safety protocols.

Australia is no exception when it comes to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant workers.

Matt Kunkel, CEO of the Migrant Workers Centre in Victoria, said the ILO report included important policy recommendations. It did not address, however, some issues specific to the Australian experience. In Australia, although the government implemented emergency packages for workers, these were only extended to workers with citizenship or permanent residency and backfired for many migrant workers on temporary visas. Businesses tried maximising their access to the emergency packages by replacing migrant workers with others who were eligible for the emergency packages. Mr Kunkel said, “As a result, 36 per cent of migrant workers on temporary visas lost jobs and 37 per cent experienced reduced income during the pandemic according to our own survey.”

The heightened racism against workers from Asian background was also a widely cited Australian experience that was not discussed in the report.

Further, a 2020 survey of over 2000 migrant workers on temporary visas conducted by the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative in NSW showed widespread job losses that for every category of migrant worker surveyed, job losses or large reductions in hours were experienced by over 50 per cent of migrants. This far outstrips the rate of job loss among Australian citizens and is the result of several factors. Temporary visa holders tend to be concentrated in industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic such as hospitality, retail, and commercial cleaning. These industries are also notorious for high rates of labour exploitation and wage theft, exacerbated by low rates of unionization among migrant workers in these industries. Additionally, there are limits on the number of hours that certain visa categories such as international students are legally allowed to work. Compounded by a lack of access to government support, this has condemned many migrant workers in Australia to poverty, homelessness, and unsustainable debt. Over a quarter of respondents reported being unable to afford food, including over 50 per cent of those seeking asylum. 

Read more: 

  • ILO news release and report, Locked down and in limbo: The global impact of COVID-19 on migrant worker rights and recruitment [pdf], November 2021. Source: Risks 1023 
  • MWC Report - Lives in Limbo: Navigating Australia’s Unsettling Migration System [pdf
  • Laurie Berg and Bassina Farbenblum, As if we weren’t humans: The abandonment of temporary migrants in Australia during COVID-19 [pdf] (MWJI, 2020)

Events

HSR Initial & Refresher training

Get organised now to do either your initial five day training or your annual refresher in 2022.

Remember: under Section 67 of the OHS Act 2004 all HSRs and DHSRs are entitled to attend a one-day refresher course every year, yet many just don't get around to it. If this is you, then check out the courses scheduled for next year, and enrol now, before they fill up.  It's important to attend in order to keep up your knowledge of OHS law and practice up-to-date. In the past year we have had significant amendments to the OHS Act, new regulations (for crystalline silica) and new codes. 

The Initial course dates :

  • 12, 13, & 17, 18, 19 January - Trades Hall, Carlton
  • 17 - 21 January - Trades Hall, Carlton      
  • 24, 25 January & 1, 2, 3 February - Trades Hall, Carlton   
  • 2, 3, 4 & 17, 18 February - Trades Hall, Carlton   
  • 7 - 11 February - Bendigo            
  • 7, 8, 9 & 24, 25 February - Trades Hall, Carlton   
  • 28 February  - 4 March  (Education Sector) – AEU, Abbotsford
  • 2, 3, 4 & 17, 18 March - Trades Hall, Carlton       
  • 9, 10, 11 & 23, 24 March - Trades Hall, Carlton   
  • 28, 29, 30 March & 11, 12 April - Trades Hall, Carlton      

 Details:

Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: All initial OHS training courses are 5 days.
Course fee: $870.00 incl. GST Regional: $895.00 incl. GST

Refresher course dates:

  • 14 January - Trades Hall, Carlton
  • 25 January - Trades Hall, Carlton  
  • 14 February - Ringwood           
  • 16 February - Trades Hall, Carlton        
  • 8 March - Trades Hall, Carlton       
  • 16 March 2022 (Education Sector) - AEU, Abbotsford

Also, Work-related gendered violence refresher course: 3 February - Trades Hall, Carlton. (More info: Knowledge is power in fight against gendered violence) The course covers: 

  • Session 1 - legislative update on the Victorian OHS 2004 Act, OHS Regulations 2007, WorkSafe compliance codes and guides.
  • Session 2 - consultation, communication, problem solving.
  • Sessions 3 & 4 - hazard identification and control with either manual handling, work related stress, incident investigation or hazard mapping.

Details:

Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: 1 day
Course fee: Metro: $330.00 incl. GST Regional: $350.00 incl. GST 

Go to this link to enrol in a five-day initial or a refresher course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days before the course. 


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