Union News

Horse trainer killed after fall
A 60-year-old man has died after he was thrown from a horse he was breaking in on a roadside at Carlsruhe, near Kyneton on Thursday morning. It is believed the horse trainer was thrown and struck a power pole when the horse bucked. WorkSafe is investigating the fatality. The VTHC extends its condolences to the man's family, friends and colleagues.

This death brings the total number of workers killed in Victoria this year to nine - the official tally is seven.

Industrial manslaughter update
The Premier, Daniel Andrews, and the Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, last week met families whose loved ones died at work in the Delacombe trench collapse in 2018, and announced a new Implementation Taskforce to consult on the proposed legislation to make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence..

The taskforce will be led by former Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins, and comprises members from unions, business and victims' families. It will be supported by a Workplace Fatalities and Serious Incidents Reference Group representing victims' families to ensure that those who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents can contribute to the reforms. A Legal Advisory Group comprising legal sector stakeholders will also be established to consult on the proposed model for the new offence.
Read more: Victorian Government media release

Living standards dropping
Research released this week by the ACTU has found that Australian living standards are in decline for the first time since the 91-92 recession despite strong corporate profits, obscene CEO salaries and an increase in the number of billionaires. The report, Inequality in Australia, includes work from the Australian National University's Associate Professor Ben Phillips which uses data from Australian Bureau of Statistics measuring wages, welfare payments and investment incomes, and more.

The report shows that real wages growth has fallen dramatically, and Australia has seen the biggest fall in living standards in 30 years. It is now experiencing an 'incomes recession.'  After analysing the figures, the paper sets out policy implications and recommendations.

"Working people in Australia need fair pay and good, secure jobs so that we can maintain good living standards," said ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus. "The Morrison Government has overseen multi-nationals and the very wealthy taking more than their fair share of the nation's wealth at the expense of the living standards of millions of working people."
Read more: The Inequality in Australia briefing [pdf] and summary [pdf]. ACTU media release

Gig workers: what's been your experience?
Gig workers Victoria is a network of on demand workers housed in Victorian Trades Hall Council. Workers alongside Victorian Unions are standing up to improve their safety, pay and conditions for all in the 'on-demand' economy. These workers know first hand how difficult it is to earn a 'living wage'!

There is a team of organisers who are seeking to empower on demand workers in Victoria with the knowledge and skills needed to end workplace exploitation and insecurity.

Check out the new Gig Worker website, come along to one of the meetings being organised in March. There's also a survey, which can be taken in English or in a range of languages where gig workers can 'tell their story'. If you or someone you know has had any experience in this sector, please take the survey or pass it on.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
Our employer has provided us with a 'portakabin' for coffee and lunch breaks. About 20 staff use the facility although not all at once. Although we have contracted cleaners on site they have been told not to clean the facility and as a result it gets very messy and dirty. The management position is that we must clean the facility ourselves. Is management breaching its duty of care?

While it's reasonable for your employer to ask employees to keep things tidy and to clean up after themselves (for example wash their own cups, put things away), it is not reasonable for you to be expected to 'clean' the facility. The employer needs to ensure that the facility is properly maintained and things like cleaning floors, emptying rubbish bins, etc, need to be done on a regular basis and by someone who has the appropriate cleaning materials and time. This should be part of what the contract cleaners are required to do.It's the employer's duty of care to 'provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health' - and this includes providing 'adequate facilities' (See Duties of employers).

The Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code sets out what the employer needs to do in order to comply with the general duty of care. Here are two relevant sections of the Code:

26 - Workplace amenities need to be maintained so that they continue to meet the needs of employees.  This means they need to be hygienic, safe, secure and in serviceable condition.

and

28 - Workplaces and amenities need to be cleaned regularly, usually daily. The cleaning schedule needs to take into account the requirement for hygienic maintenance of amenities such as dining areas, toilets, hand basins and showers. These amenities need to be cleaned more frequently, taking into account shift work, the type of work performed and the number of employees.

So... I would say that your employer is definitely breaching their duty of care and must arrange for the 'portakabin' to be cleaned by the contract cleaners on a regular basis.

Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.

Reminder: Draft silica standard
Safe Work Australia is seeking input on the recommended values for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and respirable coal dust (RCD). The draft report on silica recommends a TWA of 0.02 mg/m3 to protect for fibrosis and silicosis, and consequently minimise the risk of lung cancer, in workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica at the workplace.

To provide comments on the draft evaluation reports and recommendations for respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal dust by 30 April 2019, access the SWA consultation platform Engage.  Help strengthen the VTHC submission supporting the reduced exposure standard by signing Greg Ballantyne's petition now!

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Joint call to end workplace sexual harassment
The ACTU has joined with more than 100 organisations and individuals to issue a joint statement to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's National Inquiry into Workplace Sexual Harassment. The statement outlines a five-point plan to Change the Rules, which would require employers take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and introduce an efficient, effective and accessible complaints mechanism in the Fair Work Commission.

The rates of sexual harassment in Australia are alarming, particularly for women, with 85 per cent having experienced it in their lifetime. These organisations stand together to call for change to make sure workplaces are free from sexual harassment.
Read more: The joint statement [pdf]

Asbestos News
School asbestos scare
Last week asbestos dust was found covering children's belongings in primary school classrooms at Essendon North Primary School, in Melbourne's north. The two classrooms were eventually closed and an investigation has been launched into maintenance works at the school.

It appears workers had pulled up carpet and ground down flooring to repair damage caused by a leaking roof. Dust from the works went through two open windows and two doorways into the classrooms, where a layer settled everywhere. While children were not in the classrooms during the grinding works last Tuesday, they were there while the carpets were pulled up.

Of great concern is that students had been let back in to the dust-covered classrooms on Wednesday morning, where parents spent more than an hour cleaning!! This is totally unacceptable, and in breach of the OHS regulations.

The Department of Education confirmed an occupational hygienist took samples of the dust the day the complaint was made, on Wednesday. Those samples were found to contain asbestos.
Read more: Asbestos found in Melbourne primary school during renovations

Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce
A dedicated asbestos taskforce for the Latrobe Valley has been launched, ensuring locals have their say over the removal of dangerous asbestos waste material from former power station and industrial sites.

A key election commitment from the Andrews Labor Government, the Latrobe Valley Regional Asbestos Forum will bring together government agencies, local groups, councils and unions to make sure there is a consistent and transparent plan for removing and disposing of asbestos contaminated materials from local industrial sites.

The taskforce will design a plan for the management, demolition, transportation and disposal of asbestos waste material from sites including the decommissioned Hazelwood Power Station and the Energy Brix Australia site at Morwell, and ensure the community is fully engaged throughout the process.
Read more: Minister for Workplace Safety media release

Greens want "Mr Fluffy" inquiry
Greens candidate for the new ACT Federal seat, Tim Hollo, has said he will push for a Commonwealth-supported inquiry into the Mr Fluffy crisis.

As the buyback and demolition program is nearing conclusion, homeowners have have repeated their calls for scrutiny of what led to it. They want to know why "Mr Fluffy" Dirk Jansen was allowed to sell and install the asbestos insulation for more than a decade despite warnings from federal bureaucrats about the dangers, why owners were allowed to sell and rent Fluffy homes without alerting new owners and tenants, and why the government approved renovations - exposing owners and tradespeople to asbestos - without explicit warnings. Read more: Sydney Morning Herald

Read more on Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

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