Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

As expected the situation is changing daily. At the time of posting, Australia had recorded its twentieth death. Our state and federal governments have introduced increasingly restrictive measures, seeking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible. 

While these measures will hopefully 'flatten the curve', they are clearly affecting workers and their families. There are health and safety implications whether you are working from home or going 'in' to work. 

On Monday of this week the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, moved the state to Stage 3 coronavirus restrictions as we recorded 821 cases - this morning there were 917 confirmed cases. Gatherings have now been restricted to no more than two people except for members of the immediate household, and for work and education. The main message? If you can stay at home, stay at home. He added that he would not rule out a fourth stage. 

Ask Renata 

Hello Renata

I'm the HSR at my workplace and have a question: Is it true that in the current time of Covid-19 should workers over 60 years of age be sent home from the workplace as they be more likely to be more vulnerable than others?

Apologies for the long answer, but hopefully this will be useful both to you and other HSRs.  
I think that someone may be vulnerable for any number of reasons, and being older is one of these if the person's health is not very good. However this is not to say that all 60 year olds are in this category, particularly if they are well. The Australian government has said that people over 70 should stay at home as much as possible. This week the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which develops and delivers policies and programs and advises the Australian Government on health, aged care and sport, recommended special provisions be applied to vulnerable people in the workplace.  This is an excerpt from the AHPPC statement
Excluding healthcare settings where appropriate PPE and precautions are adhered to, the AHPPC considers that, given the transmission characteristics of the virus, the following settings are at higher risk of outbreaks of COVID-19:
  • Correctional and detention facilities
  • Group residential settings

AHPPC considers that, based on the limited current evidence, the following people are, or are likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they are infected with the virus: 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions.5 Conditions included in the definition of ‘chronic medical conditions’ will be refined as more evidence emerges. The most current list can be accessed on the Department of Health website 
  • People 70 years and older
  • People with compromised immune systems (see Department of Health website)

AHPPC recommends that where vulnerable workers undertake essential work, a risk assessment must be undertaken.  Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work. This includes ensuring vulnerable people are redeployed to non-customer based roles where possible. Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, employers and employees should consider alternate arrangements to accommodate a workplace absence.

AHPPC recommends that special provisions apply to essential workers who are at higher risk of serious illness and, where the risk cannot be sufficiently mitigated, should not work in high risk setting.

I recommend as the HSR you have a meeting with your employer to:
  1. discuss the AHPPC advice 
  2. undertake an audit of all work to determine what can be moved off-site, and that arrangements be made that everyone who can work remotely do so. This will reduce the risk of infection for all workers and is in fact what our political leaders are now recommending (see the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page)  However, it will require the employer planning and putting things in place to ensure compliance with duties under the Act (see: Teleworking - or working from home)  
  3. for work that cannot be taken off-site, an audit of the workers doing this work to determine whether any are at serious risk according to the AHPPC advice
  4. on the basis of this audit, seek the redeployment of vulnerable workers to ensure they no longer work in a high risk setting
In addition, make sure that you consult with members of your DWG both before and after you meet with your employer. Make sure they are aware of the AHPPC advice and let you know if they believe they are at increased risk. If necessary, they should seek advice from their doctor. I would have also recommended that you contact your union if you have any difficulties. 

Go to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website as well as the ACTU's COVID-19 resource page.

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

New arrangements for HSR training

With the lock down and physical distancing rules, the Trades Hall has suspended all face to face HSR training until it is once again safe to do so.  In the meantime however, we have received WorkSafe to run Refresher Training online! For those many HSRs who haven't yet done their annual Refresher Course, this is the perfect time to do so and still ensure they are complying with the need to social distance.  Go to this page for more information and to enrol. 

April 28: International Workers Memorial Day

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. The focus this year is of course the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ITUC makes the point that while everyone is affected by the crisis, workers are on the front line. “Healthcare workers in particular are risking their lives doing their job to take care of the sick. There are people working in aged care facilities looking after the most vulnerable group of people. But then we also need transport, supermarket workers, and providers of for essential services, to keep the economy going. People should thank these workers because if you can’t buy food, then you can’t keep your family sustained and healthy” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the international union body.

International Workers’ Memorial Day 2020 will be held in support of all these courageous workers and in remembrance of the people who have died or become sick or injured while doing their job.

Social distancing and lockdown measures most likely mean that physical meetings and events will not be possible. The VTHC will be organising a virtual event this year - so keep your eyes on the journal and our We Are Union OHS Facebook pages for updates.  ITUC 28 April Campaign website

Asbestos news

Victoria: Misuse of EPA logo leads to conviction and fine 
A Hallam based asbestos removal company has been convicted and fined for misusing the logo of Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) on its business stationery and website.

Asbestos Australia Pty Ltd and its director Tom Visal Clappers each pleaded guilty to one charge of falsely suggesting that asbestos removal services were approved by EPA, in contravention of the Environment Protection Act 1970. The company was convicted and fined $2,500 and ordered to pay EPA’s prosecution costs of $813.46 and Mr Clappers was fined $1,000 without conviction. Read more: Mirage News 

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

International Union News

UK: minimum wage 'heroes' get pay rise

Commenting on the new, increased, national minimum wage rates of 6.2 per cent which come into force in the UK today (Wednesday), TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Britain is indebted to its army of minimum wage heroes. Many – including care workers and supermarket staff – are currently on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus. They deserve every penny of this increase, and more. The best way to show our respect is to get the minimum wage up to a real living wage as soon as possible. Millions of low-paid workers are struggling to make ends meet. That’s not right during a pandemic – or at any time.”

This contrasts starkly with the position of some employer bodies in Australia. The Restaurant & Catering Association and Master Grocers Australia have both called for a wage freeze this year due to the impact of the coronavirus on business and jobs. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Australian Industry Group have called for this year's wage decision to be delayed so parties can properly consider the impact of COVID-19 virus on the economy. In fact ACCI went so far as suggesting that if the COVID-19 crisis worsens and the "economic and jobs curve starts to look like the infection and fatality curves", approaches like those adopted during the Great Depression might this year require active consideration. In January 1931, said the employer organisaton, "the Court reduced 'all' award wage rates, including the basic wage and margins, by 10%, because of the depressed state of the economy in Australia and overseas".

The ACTU is seeking a modest 4 per cent increase in its submission, which would lift the minimum weekly wage to $770.43 and the hourly rate from $19.49 to $20.27. 
Sources: Workplace Express, The Australian Financial Review

UK: ‘Petrified’ Amazon workers stuck in packed warehouses
Amazon workers in the UK are ‘petrified’ of being infected by Covid-19 after being left to work in packed warehouses, without hand sanitiser or personal protection equipment, the union GMB has said. People at 'fulfilment centres' across the UK report being left in crowds of 200-300 people and having to reuse equipment multiple times with no hand sanitiser available. Workers say water dispensers are used over and over again without being disinfected, dirty canteen tables with used tissues on them, team leaders giving feedback without staying two metres away and no sanitiser or alcohol wipes to clean equipment.

GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “We are so angry about this - these workers are petrified of catching and spreading Covid-19 and rightly so. Amazon is blatantly disregarding the two metre social distancing rules, there are no masks, no sanitiser and with the vast amount of people working there there’s no way of keeping them from getting ill.” He added: “It’s impossible for Amazon workers to keep a safe distance from each other and hit their productivity targets. Amazon has a duty of care - not just to its own workers but to the whole of the British public.” Read more: GMB news release. Source: Risks 940

Global: ‘Havoc’ as half of countries placed on lockdown
Over half of all countries surveyed (53 per cent) are containing the spread of the coronavirus with national lockdown measures, the closure of schools and non-essential businesses. The Covid-19 pandemic survey by the global union confederation ITUC found six out of fifteen G20 countries which are the drivers of the global economy closed non-essential businesses between 17-23 March 2020 - but only 50 per cent of countries are providing free health care.

“The financial and humanitarian impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will stay with us for many years to come if governments don’t protect workers, supply chains and small business. As shops close and demand falls in G20 countries which are the engine of the global economy, the impact on global supply chains and the millions of workers who livelihoods depend on them will be felt in the weeks to come,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of ITUC. She added: “G20 leaders in their virtual meeting this week have no excuse to be caught off guard – if workers can see the crisis before them so should world leaders. Only by planning for a humanitarian and economic crisis for the year ahead will we protect people’s lives and livelihoods and stabilise the economy.”

The global union leader noted businesses were better protected than their workers. “Despite these necessary changes, more countries (29 per cent) are providing bail out funds for business than providing sick leave or part-time leave, with only 23 per cent of countries providing part-time leave for carers and only 21 per cent of countries providing sick leave for all or some workers. The early responses of many governments have been inadequate and as the situation changes rapidly, they need to step up,” said Burrow. Health workers, transport workers and the retail and service sectors are among those hardest hit by the pandemic due to their risk of exposure as well as a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).  
Read more: ITUC news release and Global Covid-19 survey key findings. ITF news release. Source: Risks 940


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