Union News

Two workers killed this week

In an absolute horror start to this week, two workers were killed in Victoria on Monday. 

WorkSafe Victoria has issued a media release with a few details:

A 52-year-old man died in hospital following an incident in which a circular saw cut into his leg during landscaping works at a Cobblebank property. It the worker was using the saw to cut timber posts when the incident occurred about 9am, Monday.

In the second incident, which occurred at about 2pm on Monday afternoon, a 55-year-old man was killed while weed spraying at Yea after his vehicle rolled about 40 metres down a steep hill. It is believed the man was thrown from the vehicle when it rolled over. 

WorkSafe is investigating both incidents. These fatalities bring the total number of workers killed this year, according to our calculations, to 15. WorkSafe's official number is 13.

The VTHC extends our sincerest condolences to the families, friends and work colleagues of these workers. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

There is a great deal of information on the net, the radio, and the TV on the current unprecedented situation in Australia and around the world. However the information and advice is changing daily. We have a page on the Coronavirus Disease on the site, and will try to keep it up to date. Other sources of information are:

  • Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services Information page on Coronavirus. This is updated regularly and is the source for accurate information. Other useful DHHS resources are: a ‘self-assessment tool' [pdf] for risk of coronavirus’ to be used as needed.
  • From the ACTU Centre for Health and Safety a COVID-19 resource page. This page will be regularly updated to provide unions, HSRs and workers information on how they can protect their workplaces from COVID-19. 
  • The Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website.

Remember too to sign the Megaphone petition - we need as many signatures as possible before Parliament resumes next week. Sign it, and share it as widely as possible.

Things get ugly

COVID-19 is starting to affect people everywhere - we are all aware of the panic buying which has seen supermarket shelves empty of basics such as toilet paper, rice, pasta and other staples. Many employers are now organising for their workers to work from home (read more: Teleworking)

But there are many workers who are having to bear the brunt of public frustration. Retail workers have been abused, are under a great deal of stress and now at physical danger. This week a Woolworth's employee was stabbed while trying to collect trolleys in the carpark of the Rosebud supermarket, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. The man was airlifted to hospital with a lower body injury. A Rosebud man has been arrested over the incident.

An angry shopper accused of striking a Coles employee with a stick in Brunswick on Sunday has also been charged. The 43-year-old man was held down in a citizen’s arrest by a group of customers at the Sydney Rd supermarket.
Read more: news.com.au

TWU advice to members

The Transport Workers Union, which represents many workers on the front line, has been providing advice on its website for members since early February when there were concerns regarding flights from China. Currently, it is providing advice to bus drivers and other members. Check the TWU website for updates.

Ask Renata 


I work in a coffee and ice cream cafe, and I have a few questions.

According to my employer, I must eat in the dining area of the cafe where customers sit and eat. I do not think is either professional or sanitary.

Also, are we entitled to a separate bathroom to customers (which we have on the premises)? There are over ten employees however only ever a maximum of six working at any one time. We also have a mix of genders. There is an upstairs section where we had both a dining area and a toilet, but now this has been converted into a private office.

Your employer has duties to employees under the Victorian OHS Act – but when it comes to particulars, these duties are qualified by ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. See: Duties of employers.

In response to your particular questions:

  1. Dining area – the employer is supposed to provide a dining area for you – read more here. But if it’s not ‘reasonably practicable’ to provide a separate space, then they cannot order you to eat with customers – it’s your break and you should  be able to take it elsewhere
  2. Separate bathroom – yes, there should be toilets, etc for employees – read more here. However I know there’s some loophole in shopping centres which means small shops don’t even have to have toilets for their customers.. but there should be separate toilets for employees.
  3. If they have turned a part of the workplace into a private office, then it should be practicable to allow staff a little space and certainly to use that bathroom
  4. Finally, employers have a duty to consult with workers and their elected HSRs when proposing changes to the workplace that may affect their health and safety (see: Duty to consult). This obviously did not happen here, but your employer needs to start consulting about how this will be addressed.

So... what can you do? If you have an elected HSR, then talk to them and ask them to take the issue up with the employer. If  you don't have an HSR, contact the union. If you're not in a union (why not?) then you will need to contact WorkSafe Victoria. 

If you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.

Asbestos news

Shortage of respirators around Australia
The Australian Institute of Health and Safety has issued a notice that there is currently a shortage of particulate respirators in Australia due to an increase in demand from health care workers and from the public, and also because many Chinese manufacturers have temporarily shut down. This is an issue for workplaces which require disposable respirators to protect workers from exposure to hazardous dust generated from various work processes, including asbestos removal.  The AIHS refers to advice from Workplace Health & Safety Queensland (WHSQ).
Read more: What to do when disposable respirators run out?

NSW: Changes to property industry
As of March 23 new rules will apply to the NSW property market. There will be increased clarity around what agents and property managers must disclosed about a property they are selling or leasing. They will have to disclose whether the property has 'significant health or safety risks', is listed on the loose-fill asbestos insulation register, and more (such as whether the building has external combustible cladding). 
Read more: Sweeping changes to property industry come into effect this month

National model WHS Act amended
Safe Work Australia has amended the model WHS Act to ensure that regulators have appropriate powers to deal with prohibited asbestos when it is found in a workplace.

A total ban on asbestos came into effect in Australia on 31 December 2003 making it illegal to make, use or import asbestos in Australia. Despite this ban, asbestos that has been fixed or installed since 2003 is still being found in Australian workplaces.

The changes to the model WHS Act ensure greater certainty in the regulation of prohibited asbestos. In this context, prohibited asbestos means asbestos fixed or installed in a workplace after the prohibition on asbestos was introduced.
Read more: Safe Work Australia Media release

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

International union news

TUC produces COVID-19 resources for Union reps

The UK's peak union council, has produced a guide Coronavirus/ COVID-19 Guidance to Unions for union reps. It is designed to give reps an understanding of the workplace issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide support in being effective at negotiating with employers steps that can be taken to best protect the health and safety of the workforce.

Global: Workers need coronavirus health, pay and job protection

Global union confederation ITUC is calling for urgent measures to ensure workers who show possible coronavirus symptoms have access to free health care and can take sick leave without fear of losing their jobs or their incomes. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning of a “very high risk of global spread and impact” of the disease, the union body says workplaces are ‘frontlines’ in combatting the infection’s proliferation.

“The WHO is warning of very high risk of global spread and impact of the virus, and workplaces are at the centre of containment and mitigation efforts. Many millions of people around the world have no right to take sick leave or face financial ruin if they have to go into isolation. That exposes them, their colleagues and the public to the risk of serious disease and can only accelerate its spread,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “Along with all the other urgent measures required, governments need to ensure that employers provide time off without penalty for people who have symptoms, and to fill the gaps in social protection that make it difficult for people to stop work when they are sick. Never has the need for paid sick leave been more evident.”

ITUC said that while the infection risk is highest for health workers, especially where protective equipment and facilities are lacking or sub-standard, other sectors - in particular where large numbers of people gather or are in transit - can also be major vectors for transmission. Global union UNI also warned that “workers are in the frontlines of the fight” against the virus. 
Read more: ITUC news releaseUNI news release. Source: Risks 938



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