Union News

Farmer killed by livestock

Notification of this fatality reached us late last week. A man died after he was crushed by a cow and bullock at a Carrajung Lower farm in Gippsland on Monday March 23. The 78-year-old was airlifted to hospital where he died on Friday March 27. It is believed he was loading the livestock onto a truck at the time of the incident.  

The VTHC sends our condolences to the man's family, friends and colleagues. 

The death brings the official number of workplaces fatalities this year to 15, which is nine more than at the same time last year. We believe it is the 18th fatality this year. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

It looks as though the measures introduced by federal and state governments are starting to affect the rate of infection, with increases now at under 5 per cent, compared to 18 per cent just a couple of weeks ago. At the time of posting, there had been 5919 cases of infection and Australia had recorded its 48th death.

However, our front line workers are clearly at increased risk and will continue to be while carrying out essential work to keep our society going: health care, childcare, emergency services, retail, cleaning, transport and logistics. (Check out some of the stories below) For more information make sure to take a look at our Coronavirus Disease Hazard Information page. 

7pm tonight! Live show: Coronavirus in the Workplace, Part 2

A lot has changed since our last instalment of the OHS Live Show, which is why we though we should revisit the issue of handling COVID-19 in the workplace.

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 safety measures for those workers who are still at work and considered essential.

Their guest will be Kathy Chrisfield lead OHS Officer from the ANMF Vic Branch talking about her experience with the healthcare industry, but workers in all industries will find something useful.

UWU calls for more action in early childhood education

The union covering child care education and care says the sector needs urgent & tough coronavirus rules and has come up with a 6-point plan.  Helen Gibbons, director of early childhood education at United Workers Union says, “Staff, parents and the community must have confidence that centres are doing everything they can to have safe and healthy centres that are actively limiting the spread of Covid-19.

“Early childhood education is the only place where young children can receive care while health workers save lives, cleaners and council workers keep our homes and cities clean, and retail staff work hard to make sure we have everything we need to get through this crisis.

“Educators cannot practice social distancing with very young children. For example, when a young child falls over and hurts themselves, educators offer care and comfort. Australia’s educators need to be confident that everything possible has been done to prevent any infection getting into their environment. The union’s 6 point plan gives confidence to educators and parents that early education is as safe as possible for everyone during the current crisis."

A centre director said, “As a centre owner and educator I have a duty of care to my families and children attending our service. Whilst the Federal Government is telling us that children are safe in early education, we know that children are affected by this virus...There has just been no clear policy for the sector. We are not schools. We are working with very young children where the recommendations that have been put in place about social distancing don’t apply..." 

The UWU plan for ECEC includes:

  1. Pre-entry Screening
  2. Adequate PPE
  3. Adequate cleaning
  4. Adequate staffing
  5. Hygiene
  6. Staggered times

It also covers what should happen if a COVID-19 infection does occur in a centre. To read more details about the plan, go to the UWU media release.

TWU: SA baggage handlers COVID-19 infections

The TWU has requested that Qantas provide information and documents under workplace health and safety laws regarding the infection of six baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport. The union has also written to Adelaide Airport and Safe Work SA, since up to 100 workers from various companies were potentially exposed.

The TWU has said Qantas breached the WHS Act by not taking precautions to protect its workers, not having procedures in place to minimise transmission and failing to provide workers with equipment to protect themselves.

TWU SA Branch Secretary Ian Smith said there was worrying evidence that the infection was allowed to spread because of lax systems in place. “We are informed that following an initial infection not enough protections were put in place to stop the spread. This is very serious as it means Qantas allowed its workers and workers in other companies to become exposed through its own negligence,” he said.

Qantas has repeatedly down-played the risk of exposure to its workers, including cabin crew, cleaners, caterers and baggage handlers. In several correspondence it has described the risk of exposure as “negligible”. Read more: TWU media release

TWU: HSR who stood up for safety stood down by Qantas

SafeWork NSW, the NSW workplace safety authority, is investigating Qantas and CEO Alan Joyce for suspending an health and safety representative who raised concerns about workers being exposed to the coronavirus when cleaning an aircraft that had returned from China. The company stood down the cleaner on February 2 after he advised colleagues it was unsafe to clean the jet arriving from Shanghai.

Qantas had said this was "against the advice of health authorities and despite additional safety equipment being provided to employees". The Transport Workers Union says the worker was vindicated three weeks after being stood down when SafeWork NSW issued Qantas with an improvement notice after finding it had inadequate practices in place to protect staff and passengers from coronavirus. Its inspectors had seen Qantas cleaners wiping over multiple tray tables with the same cloth without using disinfectant, and handling used tissues, face masks and nappies without having to wear protective equipment.

SafeWork NSW confirmed last week that it was investigating Qantas for alleged discriminatory conduct against the HSR, and has written to the airline to inform it the investigation is underway.

TWU NSW Branch Secretary Richard Olsen said it was vital that workplace health and safety representatives had the full backing of the law and the regulator to ensure workers got the protections they need. “If safety reps at Qantas can’t stand up to unsafe work practices, then no worker is safe. The TWU believes there is ample evidence to prove that Qantas engaged in discriminatory and prohibited behaviour,” said Mr Olsen. Source: TWU media release; The Age

Flight crew test positive for COVID-19

Four Qantas flight crew have tested positive for coronavirus after being exempt from hotel quarantine measures when they returned from a 'mercy flight' originating in Chile. The crew had travelled from Santiago to Sydney on March 29, but unlike the passengers, they did not go into mandatory 14-day quarantine. Currently, airline crew are exempted from mandatory isolation by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. There are now concerns that they may have spread the virus to their families, other Qantas or the public. 

The news comes as Qantas and Virgin Australia prepare to resume international services with government subsidised flights to London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland to bring stranded Australians home.

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist who is a member of the World Health Organisation's COVID-19 expert advisory panel, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the exemption for airline crew was “illogical” and "a hole in the system". “For cabin crew it makes no logical sense to give them an exemption when they are having close contact with passengers who are then required to go into isolation under supervision,” Professor McLaws said.  “While the cabin crew don't go on holiday while they’re there, they are exposed for many hours in small confined spaces. Anybody that’s a traveller is a risk and that remains a risk for spread in Australia, be they the captain, the crew or the passengers.”
Read more: Qantas crew exempt from quarantine have tested positive for COVID-19 The Sydney Morning Herald

Building unions work to keep jobs going

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is working closely with companies to make sure construction sites are safe from coronavirus so work could continue during the pandemic.

A Melbourne construction worker tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month after returning from overseas prior to self-isolation policies being enacted, the CFMEU said. The union has developed COVID-19 guidelines which provide direction to employers and workers for the steps required to be taken to best provide a safe and healthy environment, and the actions available in the event of interruption to building and construction work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These guidelines can be downloaded here.

And this week Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews delivered a message of reassurance to the construction industry: not only is it safe to keep working, but we should expect plenty more work in the pipeline. In an interview with ABC News about the state’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Victorian Premier made it clear that the necessary precautions are being taken to keep workers in our industry safe, healthy and employed. Read more: COVID-19: Construction is safe and vital for recovery, Premier saysCFMEU media release

Ask Renata 

Just a question regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. If an essential service provider has a employee come in to work and is infected with the virus and others then become infected, would they be covered by Work Cover because it happened at work?
  
Workers compensation is not my area, but I believe that they should be covered by workers' compensation and probably will be. The test applied by the insurance companies is "was the injury/disease sustained in or out of the course of your employment?"  
  
So, if an 'essential services' worker - for example healthcare, emergency services, childcare, education, retail, and so on - were to contract COVID-19 they would be entitled to receive WorkCover, so long as the infection was in the or out of the course of their employment. It does not matter whether the worker contracts it from a member of the public/patient/client or from another worker. 

In other words, as long as it could be shown that it was not the result of contact between family/friends or in their own time. This may sound difficult, but currently the Health Department is investigating each case and identifying contacts and so on.  Go to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website as well as the ACTU's COVID-19 resource page
  
Surprisingly I am getting fewer queries coming in - maybe because so many workers are now working from home (WFH - another acronym!). Don't be shy: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. 
.
Retail workers under the pump

The Guardian yesterday reported that supermarkets like starting to look like nightclubs! Long lines have formed outside supermarkets after Coles, Woolworths and IGA began limiting the number of customers inside stores in an effort to allow physical distancing and keep flattening the curve of Covid-19 infections during the Easter rush.

The Thursday before Easter is traditionally one of the busiest days for supermarkets, as people stock up for the weekend. However, in an attempt to avoid overcrowding, a number of Australian supermarkets have instituted “one in one out” policies.

Environment Victoria: hints on keeping bills down 

Most of us are spending much more time at home - the lucky ones who can work from home and of course the many who due to the restrictions have either lost their jobs or had hours severely reduced. Unfortunately, it looks like this may continue for quite a while. As the weather cools down, this could mean an increase in our energy bills - an extra expense we could all do without. 

James Conlan, Sustainable Homes Project & Policy Officer with Environment Victoria, has provided a number of hints on how to reduce our energy bills - from some very quick and cheap things to do straight away, to more long-term and larger projects. Read more: How to save energy at home during COVID-19

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 may be the perfect time to do so if they are working from home, 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. Not surprisingly, the international focus this year is the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

It is planned that '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 has begun organising a virtual event and we will let you know as soon as possible what this will look like  - so keep your eyes on the journal and our We Are Union OHS Facebook pages for updates.  ITUC 28 April Campaign website

Asbestos news

With the escalation of the COVID-19 crisis over the past few weeks, the amount of media coverage regarding asbestos issues has reduced considerably - consequently there have not been many stories posted. 

Indonesia: Bandung Expands Asbestos Ban
Union Aid Abroad APHEDA had some great news this week: In a major breakthrough in the campaign to ban asbestos, the Indonesian city of Bandung has announced that they will be expanding their asbestos ban to include all new private houses!

This goes even further than Bandung’s 2018 decision to ban asbestos in new commercial buildings. In practice, it will mean that the city won’t approve planning applications with asbestos products. The ban is a huge win for the campaign to end asbestos use in Indonesia.

Indonesia imports over 100,000 tonnes of raw asbestos each year. There are around twenty-six asbestos product factories, most of which are located on the island of Java. The majority of the imported raw asbestos goes to manufacturing roof sheets that are used in construction. There are estimates that up to 50% of the roofs in Jakarta are made of asbestos sheeting. 

The next steps in Indonesia will be to use the success in Bandung to pressure more local and regional governments to take steps to ban asbestos products in their cities. Read more: APHEDA media release

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

International Union News

UK: Unions call for urgent government action on PPE

The UK government must ensure essential workers get access to live-saving protective equipment, an open letter to ministers from unions has said. The letter, signed by the TUC, UNISON, RCM, GMB, Unite, BDA and CSP, notes:

“Our members care for the sick and the elderly, they look after our children and keep them safe, they make sure there is food on the supermarket shelves, they keep the lights on and the water running. We are weeks into fighting Covid-19. It is now clear that the lack of personal protective equipment for frontline workers has become a crisis within a crisis.”

The letter adds: “Workers are being exposed to unreasonable and unnecessary risk by the ongoing failure to provide key workers with adequate PPE. Every day we hear from our members that despite repeated assurances from government, people are being asked to work with inadequate or out of date protective equipment – and that is where PPE is being provided at all.”

The letter states starkly the risks faced by key workers. “They are risking their own health and safety for us. We must be clear what that means, those who are subject to prolonged and direct exposure to the virus – such as health and social care professionals – are risking their lives.”  Workers in many essential areas in Australia are facing similar shortages, with some even making their own masks and gowns. 
Read more: TUC news release Source: Risks 941

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