Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update  

Latest figures  
As of this morning, there had been 7229 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. 102 people have died - an increase of two since the last week. There have not been any new 'clusters' in Victoria - but there have been a couple of concerning cases identified in school students after schools started back last week. 

The pandemic is far from reaching its peak around the world however, with the number of people infected now at 6,451,966 - last week it was over 5.5 million, so that's almost a million more. Over 1,880,000 of these cases are in the USA, with 108,059 deaths, showing how a poor response to the virus has led to shocking outcomes.  
For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Mental health resources

There are lots of resources available online providing support for workers and others suffering from anxiety during this period. Below are some examples:

  1. Beyond Blue has a number of resources promoting a calm, practical approach to managing the emotional impact of the virus. Its page: Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service has information and advice, an online community forum, and other resources such as tips about coping with self-isolation, how to talk to children about the outbreak, advice for health care workers, and information about support-seeking.
  2. The Australian Department of Health has also created COVID-19 specific resources on the Head to Health website.

  3. The Australian Psychological Society – Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety

  4. For young people in particular: Headspace – How to cope with stress related to coronavirus (COVID-19) 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I cannot find information about usage and the appropriate cleaning of shared resources in my school, especially phones. In some offices, one phone is shared by at least six people. Often someone answers the phone and needs to hand it to someone else. Staff are reporting feeling uncomfortable and worried about doing this. There is a limited supply of anti-bacterial wipes as these are deemed too expensive. Can you provide me with clear advice for safe practices and routine cleaning? 

There is quite a lot of advice around on cleaning. Safe Work Australia has a webpage on cleaning as well as a very detailed document titled Recommended Cleaning: Supplementary Information [pdf]. In it, SWA has the following advice regarding how often to clean a telephone if it is used by multiple users: "Clean and disinfect at least daily & more regularly if shared by multiple users."

So how often is 'more regularly?' It's a bit like 'how long is a piece of string?'!!

How much risk of infection there is to people using the phone will depend on a number of factors -  but this is what you can do to reduce peoples' risk (and stress):
  1. ensure everyone is regularly washing their hands - for example before entering a new, shared, space and after they come out of the classroom, obviously after using the bathroom, or sneezing/coughing, and so on
  2. ensure that the school is monitoring peoples' health - if anyone has any symptoms, then they need to get tested and not come into work until clear. Staff should also look out for each other.. we can't accept our old ways of just 'soldiering on'!
  3. ensure the school is also monitoring students' health and gets the information out to parents that if their offspring shows any symptoms they do not come in to school
The above will reduce the likelihood that there is infection at the school - despite the couple of cases identified in schools recently, the incidence is very low.
THEN make sure that the phone is cleaned and disinfected at least once per day, but if everyone keeps an eye on it and is worried that maybe someone has used it and has any symptoms (but see number 2, above!), then give it a wipe... 
The Department of Education has also produced advice specifically for schools: Enhanced School Cleaning Guideline, which was developed to assist schools and cleaning service providers inform the scope of enhanced cleaning works at schools to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Enhanced cleaning includes both:
  • an increase in the frequency of the regular cleaning, beyond what is normally required, using detergent/disinfectant; and
  • extended cleaning to progressively clean throughout the day, focusing on high-touch surfaces - including handles, bins, phones and so on.
It recommends cleaning and disinfecting at regular intervals throughout the day with a detergent solution or detergent/disinfectant wipes. It notes that cleaning and disinfection is normally a two-step process, but can be one-step depending on whether an appropriate cleaning chemical or detergent/disinfectant wipe is available. 

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

Warning: UV exposure will not kill the coronavirus 

The Cancer Council is issuing a warning about what is clearly an urban myth: apparently there have been misleading reports that standing in the sun will help kill the corona virus. Experts agree this is not true and only intense doses of UVC delivered using specialised equipment can sterilise certain surfaces not people. However remembers that exposure to UV radiation will increase your risk of skin cancer.

Sun protection for outdoor workers

The Cancer Council is warning that outdoor workers need sun protection all year around. It makes the point that while it may be cold, rainy and grey with summer now a distant memory, the sun's ultraviolet radiation (UV) is still around. For those who work outdoors, UV is their constant companion  every day, all year.  UV exposure adds up over time and each dose adds to the risk of skin and eye damage and skin cancer. Working outdoors even at a UV level of 1, can cause damage.   

The Cancer Council says: "Just as you've developed a new normal to protect from COVID-19 each day, don't forget your regular routine to protect from UV. Both can't be seen but can do a lot of harm. Prevention is the key." Read more: Sunshine and UV Radiation

Asbestos news  

National: Money for home renovations? Beware! 
There is talk that the Federal government may this week announce a new homebuyers' scheme - his government's fourth COVID-19 stimulus package. The scheme will help low to middle income earners and be put towards big projects such as remodelling and home extensions - not small DIY renovations. 

Master Builders Australia chief executive Denita Wawn has welcomed the scheme saying the package would save small construction companies from a potential catastrophe. She added that homeowners should also be able to use the grant money to rectify cladding and asbestos concerns. 

The VTHC warns homeowners to ensure that only qualified tradesmen do work, that they check before commencing work whether there is any asbestos present, and that, if it's going to be disturbed, it is removed properly. If it is less than 10 square metres, and in good condition (that it, not 'friable') it can be removed by someone who does not have an asbestos removalist licence, it must be removed according to the requirements in the Asbestos regulations (check here). If it is more than 10 square metres OR if it's in a crumbly condition, then only licensed removalists can remove it. Read more: MSN news

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

Government leave migrant worker groups out of Advisory Group

The VTHC Migrant Workers Centre is calling on the Department of Home Affairs to ensure workers’ rights and not just the interests of businesses are at the centre of the Government’s plan to eradicate modern slavery through its’ new Modern Slavery Expert Advisory Group. Over half the appointments to the group are from big business and the business lobby, yet there are no representatives of unions, or civil society organisations. At least 70 people, including many leading experts in the field of modern slavery, and workers’ representatives, were nominated.

The Morrison Government, brokered by Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton and Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood, have stacked this group, deliberately excluding the voices of working people. Workers’ voices continue to be marginalised at a time when migrant workers have been locked out of JobKeeper wage subsidy payments and are facing worsening exploitation across global supply chains through COVID-19.

The legislation passed in 2018 is already weak. There is no proper oversight of the legislation, nor any way to enforce it. Without accountability, transparency and fines, there will be no incentive for companies to report what they have done to deal with slavery in their supply chains, workers’ rights will continue to be breached, and the public will remain ignorant of the abhorrent abuses committed by Australian and multi-national companies.

Migrant Workers Centre Director Matt Kunkel said, “Excluding unions and civil society groups from the advisory group shows that the Morrison Government is only paying lip service when it speaks of a new era of co-operative government."
Source: VTHC Migrant Workers Centre media release.

International Union news

Scotland: Roving union safety reps in reopening plan

Official return-to-work guidance in Scotland is recommending the deployment of union roving health and safety reps to ensure reopening of workplaces is safe. The roving reps are to be on call for workers and employers in non-unionised workplaces. The plan is included in a joint statement by the Scottish government, police and safety enforcement bodies. Scotland’s national union body STUC “strongly welcomes the support from Scottish government, Police Scotland, Health and Safety Executive and local authorities for the role of roving health and safety reps for workers in non-unionised workplaces.” As the ‘Test and Protect’ contact tracing was set to start in the country, STUC reminded government and employers that “no workplace should be re-opening until effective tracing is actually in place,” adding it “has concerns over elements of the transport guidance which must be right before any further relaxation of lockdown. The STUC will take the cabinet secretary up on his pledge to further work with unions to fix these issues.” STUC general secretary designate Roz Foyer said good guidance for manufacturing and retail developed in full consultation with unions “makes clear the steps that are required of employers in creating special risk assessments with unions and fully taking into account our key red lines including contact tracing and travel to work issues.” Welcoming the joint statement, she said: “It makes crystal clear that no employer, unionised or not, is at liberty to ignore their workers or fail to engage with unions when that is their employees wish. Later this week we will announce how unions intend to organise, support and resource an army of organisers and roving reps who will be tasked with ensuring workers are fully empowered and supported over coming months.”
Read more: STUC news release. Scottish government news release and Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer workplaces statement. Source: Risks 949

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