Union News

Four Police Officers killed in horror crash

The whole of Australia will know of the horror crash last Wednesday evening April 22 in which four police officers who had stopped a speeding car on the Eastern Freeway in Melbourne, were killed when a truck ploughed into them. The two senior constables and two constables were killed in the crash in the city bound lanes of the freeway near the Chandler Highway at Kew at about 5.40pm.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said it was the largest single loss of lives in one incident in the history of Victoria Police. He said the tragic incident highlighted the dangers of everyday police work. 

Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt was visibly shaken and emotional when he spoke to the media, saying he was "floored" by the deaths of the "four dedicated members." He said, "This is the bread and butter of policing. This isn't stuff that you … expect to be killed doing."

The 41-year old Porsche driver, who fled the scene, later gave himself up and has been charged with nine offences including: committing an indictable offence while on bail; driving at dangerous speed; reckless conduct endangering life; failure to render assistance; possessing drug of dependence; and destruction of evidence. He has been remanded in custody and faced court on Monday.

The 47-year old truck driver, who was taken to hospital after the crash due to a medical episode at the site, was charged after a joint investigation by the Major Collision Investigation Unit and the Homicide Squad, police said in a statement released early Monday morning. He did not apply for bail and has been remanded in custody until his next court appearance in October.  Source: ABC News online

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

National workplace principles
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison released a set of national workplace principles developed in consultation with union representatives, the COVID-19 Commission and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter.  The principles provide Australian businesses with rules on how to manage workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic. There are ten principles - below is the opening statement and the first principle.

"Recognising that the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency, that all actions in respect of COVID-19 should be founded in expert health advice and that the following principles operate subject to the measures agreed and implemented by governments through the National Cabinet process:

All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment."

The Prime Minister said National Cabinet would be developing industry-specific workplace health and safety guidelines around COVID-19. Read more: ABC news online and the National COVID-19 safe workplace principles

Latest figures

As of this morning, there had been 6725 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - this is an increase of just 78 cases over the past week. 84 people have died - 10 more than last week. These figures highlight the success of measures taken. New cases and deaths worldwide are still on the increase, with some countries not yet reaching the 'peak'. In the United States for example, where there are a total of 1,035,765 cases and 59,266 deaths, the past week has seen an increase of 211,536 cases.  For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.

Coronavirus and violence
The VTHC Women's and Equity team is organising two webinars this week:
  1. Safe and Respectful Workplaces COVID19 edition

    Join We Are Union Women for a Webinar about Safe and Respectful Relationships during the period of the CIVID19 Pandemic. We will be covering the usual information regarding the impacts of gendered violence in the workplace and how we can use industrial and OHS frameworks to improve the safety and rights of workers. Given the unique circumstances the entire society is experiencing during the COVID19 Global Pandemic we will also consider the impact of the context within which we are currently working. When: May 1, 9.30am to 11.30am. Where: Zoom meeting. Register here.

  2. Family Violence As A Workplace Issue COVID19 Edition

    Join We Are Union Women for a webinar in which we discuss Family Violence As A Workplace Issue and the particular challenges being presented by the COVID19 Global Pandemic. Restrictions on the way we work and where we work are highlighting specific challenges we are facing as a society whilst also revealing that those living with family violence are enduring and very particular struggle during this time. We apply industrial and OHS frameworks to the issue and explore the ways in which we can ensure the rights and safety of all workers are prioritised. When: May 1, 1pm - 2.30pm. Where: Zoom meeting. Register here

Domestic Abuse and Coronavirus

The UK’s TUC has developed an new resource for workplace reps we think is worth Australian reps taking a look at. The peak union council says, “It’s a really frightening time if you're experiencing domestic abuse, especially if you're isolated with your abuser.”

The physical workplace can be a place of safety, but with social distancing measures in place that option may be gone, leaving women isolated from their support networks. Many are still in contact with their reps, co-workers, and employers – that means we can all play a role in ensuring they and their children stay safe. 

These are extraordinary times. The isolation measures in response to COVID-19 mean many more people are working from home. We have the same situation here. The TUC is asking employers and reps to take practical action to help protect and support people they know or fear are experiencing domestic abuse.

They point out: "you can't replace specialist services, but this guide will help you develop the awareness and skills to give the best support and advice you can to someone who may be in danger."  The TUC says that there are many reasons as to 'why reps?' - they can be a link to the outside world for people at risk of abuse. They can spot signs, provide support, and help stop victims from suffering further abuse. The guide provides practical advice to reps on what they can do to help. Check out the TUC resource here.

Ask Renata  

Hi -   
I am an HSR and I, along with my entire DWG, have been working from home for the past 4 weeks. We have now been informed that most of us will be returning to our 'normal' workplace in one week. Management has drawn up and sent out safety guidelines for this return. However, at no time have any of the HSRs been consulted about either the return or the guidelines.
When I asked about the lack of consultation I was told that these are exceptional circumstances and that they have to move quickly and that as they would be following Government advice, no consultation would take place. Also, they said that as I was not one of the ones being directed to return, my input was not required despite being the HSR.
Should the HSRs have been included in this process? Should I have been included, even if I am not going back at this stage?
This is not acceptable. Your employer should have been able to 'move' just as quickly by involving you (and other HSRs) in the development of both the return to work timetable AND the general guidelines from the start. Unfortunately, it seems that at the moment some employers are using the excuse of 'exceptional circumstances' and 'need to act quickly' as a an excuse to not consult with HSRs - as they are required to do under s35 of the OHS Act. Irrespective of what advice they may be using, the legal duty to consult remains.  
This is what I recommend you do:
  1. I see you're a union member: contact the union and discuss this with the OHS officer or your organiser
  2. Together with the union and the other HSRs if you can, go through the guidance to identify any issues or concerns you have about it. Also, what about the return to work timetable and who is being asked to return? Are there any issues with this? For example, draft Safe Work Australia guidance (which has not been finalised yet) recommends that prior to return to work, a number of things be done, including as a general risk assessment and the identification of any vulnerable workers so that they are not put at extra risk returning to work. 
  3. ask to see the advice from government: 
    • if they do have such advice, then I would still go through the issues you have concerns about and request that these be looked at and resolved
    • if they do not have any such advice, then point out their duties under the Act - you could also issue a PIN for failure to consult (see this page for a draft PIN on this: https://www.ohsrep.org.au/coronavirus_disease ) If possible, get the other HSRs to also issue a PIN on the failure to consult. 
    • irrespective of whether you are returning to work at this stage, you are still the HSR, and have the right to be consulted and included in any discussions.
For more information, go to these pages on the site: Coronavirus Disease and Teleworking - or working from home. Note too the new report from the TUC on Returning to work (see below). 
I am still getting fewer queries coming in: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. 
International Workers Memorial Day

Yesterday, April 28, was International Workers Memorial Day, when unions and workers all over the world stopped to remember those who were killed at work or lost their lives because of their work. It was also the occasion to re-pledge our ongoing fight for the living - to keep campaigning and fighting to make workplaces healthier and safer for all workers. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, unions have had to be inventive as we could not physically gather to remember.

The VTHC streamed our event through our Facebook page. The most affecting part of the event was the compilation of 39 short videos of unionists reading out the details of how 39 people - men, women and a child - were killed, and then lighting a candle.  By the afternoon we had had over 4000 views. 
More: You can check it out by clicking here.  ITUC statement and Sharan Burrow’s video message Workers’ Memorial Day: Stop the pandemic at workFor international April 28 news and events, check the ITUC 28 April Campaign website 

New OHS job at the VTHC 

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) is looking for someone who wants to make a difference.

We are seeking to employ a WorkWell Project Organiser on a short-term contract (until July 2022) to work in our Carlton office and/or remotely as part of our OHS Team. The WorkWell Organiser will be responsible for working with the ACTU and partner unions to deliver a new project increasing mental health safety and awareness for workers in Victoria. The WorkWell Project Organiser will provide outreach and support to unions, mental health advocates and OHS delegates in over 100 workplaces as they learn how to identify and manage psychosocial hazards.

Applications close 5pm AEST, May 1, 2020 (this Friday). To find out more regarding duties and job requirements, go to this page on the Ethical Jobs website. 

International News

Global: COVID-19 should be classified as occupational disease 
The ITUC and its Global Unions partners are calling for COVID-19 to be classified as an occupational disease, to ensure stronger workplace protections and access to compensation as well as to medical care. The call was made yesterday [28 April], on the International Workers’ Memorial Day.

“While there are many aspects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which are yet unclear, one thing that is clear is that most transmission is occurring in workplaces such as hospitals and care facilities, as well as in workplaces where transmission can occur between workers with the public. There is already evidence that in numerous countries, protective workplace measures such as distancing and personal equipment are insufficient or even absent. Workers are being made to take risks that shouldn’t be taken, and in some cases such as in Amazon warehouses, face sanctions or dismissal for raising safety concerns.

“Bringing COVID-19 into occupational disease classification is crucial to stopping this and reducing the spread of the virus. This is becoming even more urgent as countries begin to relax restrictions on economic sectors and public spaces,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Occupational disease classification would mean that where workers are infected with the virus, the presumption would be that is was workplace-related unless conclusive evidence is presented to the contrary. It would also reinforce public health measures which are in place and which will evolve in the coming months and years.

“We are also calling for occupational health and safety to be given the status of a fundamental right at the International Labour Organisation. This is a long-overdue measure which would give workers’ protection from death and disease the same priority as freedom of association, collective bargaining and protection from discrimination, forced labour and child labour,” said Ms Burrow. Read more: Council of Global Unions Statement on Recognition of COVID-19 as an Occupational DiseaseITUC news release and COVID-19 Pandemic: News from unions.

UK: new guide on returning to work
The UK's peak union council has called on government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks of their staff team returning to work outside the home. In a new report, the TUC outlines what government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after lockdown is eased, and to give staff the confidence they need. 

The union body is demanding that every employer in the UK be required to carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment, developed in consultation with unions and workers. 

New TUC polling, also published this week, shows that 2 in 5 (40 per cent) workers surveyed, along with those who have recently become unemployed, are worried about returning to the normal place of work, including half (49 per cent) of women.
Read more: TUC media release and the new report: Preparing for the return to work outside the home: a trade union approach

UK: TUC calls for inquiry into PPE shortage 
The peak union council in the UK is calling on the government to set up a public inquiry into the “grotesque” failure to provide frontline workers with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). The union body said ministers must commit to starting an independent, judge-led inquiry by the end of 2020. It noted the failure to give staff adequate PPE has resulted in workers being exposed to unnecessary risk. Commenting on 21 April, the TUC said more than 80 health and social care workers had lost their lives so far - but on 18 April, Public Health England (PHE) issued guidance for health workers to reuse PPE if stocks run low.

The TUC says that in order for the same mistakes not be made in the future the inquiry must look at the reasons for the delays in the planning for and delivery of PPE and whether guidance about the need for PPE in diverse workplace settings was timely and robust. It added that there is a need to know whether staff were put under pressure to work with inadequate or out-of-date PPE - and if so why.  Other issues that must be examined include whether staff were threatened with disciplinary action for raising concerns about the lack of PPE, said the TUC, and if so why. Criticising ‘a grotesque failure of planning and preparedness’, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Every day frontline workers are being forced to risk their lives because they don’t have the proper protective equipment. And now they are being told just to make do.”
Read more on this story: TUC media release and more on the situation in the UK in Risks 944 

USA: Over 100 transit workers die of COVID-19 
American transit workers have died from the coronavirus as employers fail to provide even basic measures to keep employees safe, a Guardian US investigation in the April 20 edition of the paper, has found.

Even after the death of a public bus driver in Detroit put a spotlight on the risks that transit workers face, transit agencies in many cities have been slow to provide simple protections, like face masks or paid sick leave.

Interviews with union officials, workers and transit authorities in a dozen major cities reveal that:

  • At least 94 transit workers have died due to coronavirus, according to two national transit unions, New York City transit officials, and workers in New Orleans. This number includes many kinds of workers who keep transit systems running, from mechanics and maintenance workers to bus and subway operators. The number of all transit workers who have died of coronavirus across the US is very likely to be much higher. 
  • The majority of American transit worker deaths have been in the New York City area, with 68 fatalities among employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as of April 17. Nearly 2,500 MTA transit employees had tested positive, and more than 4,000 were in quarantine, a spokesman said.
  • At least 24 more transit union members have died in other cities, according to two major transit unions. Bus drivers have died from coronavirus in Boston; Chicago; St Louis; Detroit; Seattle; Newark and Dover, New Jersey; Richmond, Virginia; and Washington DC, among others. In New Orleans, city bus drivers said they had lost three colleagues to coronavirus, only one of them a union member.
  • Suspending bus fares has led to high numbers of homeless people using public buses as shelter, making it difficult to observe social distancing guidelines, bus drivers across the country said.

These figures are bound to be much higher as the number of deaths in the US had reached almost 57,000 yesterday, April 28. Union officials say that many bus drivers are terrified while watching the growing number of online tributes to colleagues who have died from coronavirus. Belated safety measures have been “too little, too late”, said John Costa, the president of the nation’s largest transit workers’ union.
Read more: The Guardian 

Canada: Health and safety inspections of meat plant done by video call
Days after dozens of cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at a meat plant in southern Alberta, provincial health and safety investigators conducted an inspection by video call and concluded the plant was safe to remain open. Then, just under a week after that call, one person was dead and 515 people were sick with COVID-19 due to the outbreak at the Cargill facility near High River. The facility announced Monday it would temporarily shut down as soon as it has finished processing the meat already in the plant. The number of cases linked to this site has now increased to 580.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 brought the first 38 cases of COVID-19 at the plant to the attention of media on April 13, as some workers at the facility accused the company of ignoring physical distancing protocols and trying to lure them back to work from self-isolation. Two days later, an inspector from the provincial Occupational Health and Safety — which has a mandate to ensure Alberta workplaces are operating in a way that is healthy and safe for employees — conducted an inspection from a remote location as a Cargill employee shot live video and shared it through video conferencing online.
Read more: CBC News

April 24: Rana Plaza remembered
Seven years ago on April 24 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the single worst workplace disaster in the history of the world occurred when the eight storey Rana Plaza building collapsed. In the rubble of the destroyed building, 1,134 workers were killed, and another 2,500 were injured.

The Rana Plaza housed some shops and offices but the majority of the workers killed and injured were women employed in the many garment factories throughout the building. It was a disaster waiting to happen. 

The day before the collapse, the building had been evacuated as large cracks had appeared in the walls. On the morning of the 24th, initially the garment workers refused to return to work, but were ordered back by their bosses or faced being dismissed with no pay. Once the factories restarted, the diesel generators turned on, the building collapsed, burying thousands of workers. The owners of the building and the bosses are facing multiple charges but none of them have yet faced court over this mass slaughter of workers.

The scale of this disaster was unprecedented - but the reality is that the collapse was no isolated incident. It was the result of a brutal global system that maximises profits
and treats workers as costs to be minimised. The garment sector in Bangladesh is one of the biggest in the world with approximately 3.5 million workers employed in close to 5,000 factories, generating 80 per cent of the country’s total export revenue. Source and read more: Workers Solidarity Bulletin #14 (available later this week here)
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