Union News

Fatality in Melbourne's western suburbs

It is with great sadness that we report that another Victorian worker was killed in Geelong at about 4.20am on Tuesday morning. It appears the 78-year-old died after being hit by his own car while delivering newspapers. According to police, the man was partially out of his stationary car when it accelerated and struck him, before crashing into a fence, police said. The newspaper delivery man, from the Geelong suburb of Whittington, was taken to hospital where he later died.

The VTHC sends its sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of the worker. According to our tally, this latest death brings the number of Victorians killed in workplace incidents this year to 28. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update  

As of this morning, there had been 7,492 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. 102 people have died - this means that there have been no deaths in over two weeks. However Victoria recorded 17 of the 20 new cases overnight, an issue of concern to the Victorian government, and which has led to an increase in the number of people getting tested, and a tightening of some restrictions. The increase in cases, although much smaller than many other countries, demonstrates that we must remain vigilant, particularly as we start returning to school, work and on public transport. 

The increased number of infections has led to two schools - Brunswick East Primary School and Keilor Views Primary School - and one childcare centre being closed for at least three days this week, and the Premier reducing the number of people allowed into homes to five. 

The local government areas of Moreland, Brimbank, Hume, Casey, Cardinia and Darebin have been identified as coronavirus hotspots due to their high level of community transmissions in recent weeks. Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told the ABC, "If the numbers keep tracking in this way in these particular hotspot areas we'll have to consider options like going back to the stay-at-home direction that we had in place for a number of weeks earlier in the year." She said, however, that "very localised" restrictions, which might be applied to local government areas or even individual suburbs, were under "active consideration" due to the pockets of accelerated coronavirus transmission.

The situation in Victoria has implications for workers.  At the moment, the advice is that people should avoid travelling to and from the nominated areas, although if they needed to go/leave for reasons of work or school, then this was allowed. However, employers are being urged to keep employees working from home if possible.

The number of new infections around the world has continued to climb alarmingly. There is growing fears of large second wave infections in some countries, such as China. The number of people infected is now at 9,341,567 - last week it was 8,257,885, so this is OVER one million more infections. 
Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I’m a full-time employee. If I’m instructed by my supervisor to operate a forklift without a license with no training involved, and then injure another worker, who is at fault? And what trouble could I get into even though I’d been told by my boss and my supervisor that if I refused to do so I would face getting fired? 

Your employer and supervisor are breaking the law: a person is not allowed to operate a forklift anywhere in Australia without a licence. The only exception is if the worker is in training and is being supervised - by sight and sound - by some with a licence.   

Furthermore, they cannot sack you for refusing to carry out what is an illegal instruction, or for refusing to do something on the basis of occupational health and safety. If they try, then you have the right to take them to the Fair Work Commission for unfair dismissal - and I am sure they would  not want that, because then it would become known that they terminated you for complying with the law, and that the instruction to operate the forklift was illegal. (go to this page to find out what your basic rights are under the Fair Work Act). 

Take a look at this page on forklift safety and what the laws are.  

I recommend that you do the following:
  • go back to them and explain that you've found out that it's illegal for them to make you do this, and illegal for you to do it.
  • point out that if they don't believe you, you're happy to contact WorkSafe and an inspector could come out to explain it to them... (if you want more 'official' advice, give WorkSafe Advisory a call anyway.. you don't have to necessarily give them where you work in the first instance).
  • Also let them know that if they sack you (or even threaten to do so), this too is illegal - they can check this with Fair Work Australia. 

IF someone were to be injured/killed - and unfortunately this does and has happened with forklifts - then they would certainly be prosecuted, and though you shouldn't be, there's a chance you could be too, so my final advice is: Just don't do it. 

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

ACTU says Government has fallen short in COVID-19 response

ACTU President Michele O’Neil will tell the Senate Inquiry into the Government’s response to COVID-19 that the response has fallen short on wage subsidies, sick leave and OHS while ignoring the impact of the pandemic on women and young people.

The ACTU call for paid pandemic leave will be a key focus of Ms O’Neil’s testimony. The ACTU has been calling for two weeks paid pandemic leave to be made available to all employees, including casuals, but despite both the Queensland and Victorian Government’s introducing a similar scheme the Morrison Government has not acted.

Ms O’Neil will tell the Inquiry the Government was slow to act in introducing a wage subsidy and has failed to expand the system to those who are excluded or extend it beyond September despite underspending by $60 billion.

The Morrison Government has failed to address the gaps the pandemic has exposed in our OHS system, and despite evidence - including polling conducted for the ACTU which showed only a tiny proportion of businesses were ready for workers to return – has failed to update the system to ensure that working people are kept safe.

The Government has also failed to recognise the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on young people and women, who have lost the majority of jobs and hours of work since the beginning of the shutdown. Ms O'Neil said, “The fight against the virus isn’t over, and the Morrison Government must do more to ensure that Australian workers are protected.”
Source: ACTU medie release

VTHC Young Workers Centre: Gig economy workers urgently need a better deal

Research commissioned by the Victorian Government reveals that workers in the gig economy are predominantly young, are being paid significantly below the national minimum wage and do not have safe working conditions. Young workers in the gig economy have gone without the protections that other working people in Victoria enjoy. We need to change laws to ensure gig economy workers receive fair pay and safe working conditions. 

In its submission to the Victorian Inquiry into the On-Demand Workforce, the Young Workers Centre called for protections for young workers in the gig economy, including updating OHS laws to protect gig workers. The YWC’s own independent survey of 240 gig economy delivery riders found three in four were earning below the minimum wage for transport workers, some as low as $6.67 an hour and up to 20 per cent had been involved in an accident while at work.

Felicity Sowerbutts, Director of Young Workers Centre, said “It’s essential young workers in the gig economy are given the protections they deserve. Our employment and occupational health and safety laws must be updated to protect gig economy workers from these unscrupulous employment practices.” Source: VTHC YWC Media release

Asbestos news  

WA: Safety alert issued regarding asbestos in demolition 

In a recent Safety Alert, WorkSafeWA says it has identified instances where demolition work was conducted without first removing asbestos-containing materials. As in Victoria, this is in breach of the asbestos regulations. 

The regulator says that workers may have been exposed to asbestos while carrying out demolition work on a residential building. The workers examined the building prior to commencing the demolition and noted the presence of fibre cement sheeting on the dwelling and an attached garage. This material was not deemed to be asbestos cement and the workers proceeded to demolish the building using an excavator. Read more: WA Safety Alert

Spain: asbestos found in train parts

In a company circular dated June 19, 2020, Metro de Madrid – the rapid transit system in the Spanish capital – announced that asbestos had been found in a G32 valve gasket integrated in suspension panels in train cars 2000B, 6000, 7000, 8000 first and 9000 series. The company assured workers that it was committed to the removal of “all traces” of asbestos from the network and was analyzing “each and every part of the trains, as well as the Metro facilities to detect this material, and, where appropriate, remove it.”  Source: IBAS

Italy: Asbestos remediation program

On June 11, 2020 the council of the Italian town of Siena, in collaboration with a privately-owned company: SEI Toscana, launched a “stop asbestos” service to progress the eradication of asbestos in the municipality; asbestos remediation has been designated a high priority objective by the regional authorities in Tuscany. Individuals can access the service for the collection of asbestos-cement material from their homes in Siena for an initial payment of €57; additional charges may be imposed. This initiative was designed to prevent the illegal dumping of asbestos waste in rural areas.  Source: IBAS 

US: Ban asbestos now!

A statement released by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley on June 22, 2020, the 4th anniversary of the passing of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, deplored the US Government’s failure to progress public safety under the Act, citing the stalemate on asbestos saying: “Today, not only has EPA failed to ban asbestos, they have failed even to complete the review required by law. This unconscionable delay will cost thousands more American lives. Roughly 40,000 Americans each year die from asbestos-related causes, and this number will not decline until we take decisive action to protect Americans from asbestos.” Read more: Merkley criticizes years of EPA delays, urges Congress to ban asbestos.
Source: IBAS

Global: Double standards on sale of talc

Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has issued a statement saying it was withdrawing its iconic talc-based baby powder – which is at the center of thousands of US legal claims over asbestos-caused cancers – from sale in North America. The news about J&J’s desertion of its signature product – which had been in constant production since 1894 and was sold worldwide – was reported not only in the US and Canada but throughout the world. Health and safety campaigners from India, Brazil, Korea and elsewhere have denounced the implied double standards of this action saying lives outside North America are equally at risk from the use of J&J’s asbestos-contaminated talc-based baby powder. Read full articleSource: IBAS

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

International Union news

UK: Union launches COVID-19 charter for Tube staff

On the day that face masks were made compulsory on public transport in England, London Underground union RMT has launched a COvID-19 charter for Tube workers. The transport union said its charter, announced on 15 June, offers support to the London Underground workers who have kept the Tube and other Transport for London (TfL) services running throughout the COVID-19 crisis. It explains that while union members want to provide the best possible service to workers in London, there cannot be increased use of the Tube without the necessary safety planning and before conditions are right. The RMT charter calls for workers and their trade unions in every sector of the economy to be involved in risk assessments of all types of work in each workplace before they are required to return to work. It says that workplaces should only be re-opened when the workforce agrees it is safe to do so. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The key message of the charter is that no worker should be forced on to the Tube without the necessary safety planning and before conditions are right. The situation must also be kept constantly under review.” He added: “London Underground and TfL must be able to assure the union that different phases of lifting lockdown can be achieved without forcing usage above 13 per cent of capacity, which is the maximum that can be carried while maintaining social distancing.” per cent of capacity, which is the maximum that can be carried while maintaining social distancing.”  Read more: RMT news release. British Transport Police news release. Source: Risks 952

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