Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update  

According to the latest figures, there are 15,580 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 2,686 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 176 people have died - 48 more than last week. The number of new infections in Victoria has continued to grow which has led to increased concern and talk of even tougher restrictions. There were 384 cases reported on Monday, and 295 new infections yesterday - this is from the high of over 500 on Sunday, so hopefully the numbers are coming down. Victoria has had a total of 90 deaths - nine were reported yesterday. (It is unlikely that the latest figures have been added to the overall Australian statistics) 

On Tuesday the Premier announced that in order to free up medical staff to be able to attend private sector aged care facilities, all elective surgery will be cancelled. The system will try to accommodate anyone with surgery already booked, and urgent surgery will continue. There were over 800 active cases linked to private sector aged care. 

Last week the ACTU renewed its call for pandemic leave for all workers - since then Luke Hilakari, Secretary of the VTHC has echoed the demand. This came following the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, linking the state’s surge in coronavirus cases to insecure work meaning that people miss out on pay if they self-isolate. The Victorian government responded quickly by making $300 available to people who could show that by testing and having to remain home until they got their test results they would not be paid their normal wages. 

We need a fair national system - so sign the ACTU's petition now and send it around to all your contacts/post it on your social media.

The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at 16,893,293 - last Wednesday it was 15,093,712, so this is almost 1.8 million more infections - so the rate is still increasing. There have now been 663,465 deaths around the world. Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Victorian tragedy: Two fatalities in 48 hours

WorkSafe Victoria yesterday released news of two workplace fatalities which occurred over the weekend.

The first fatality happened on Friday when a 60-year-old farmer was killed after his tractor rolled on a property at Myrniong, near Bacchus Marsh. It is believed the man was slashing on uneven ground when the incident occurred.

The second was the death of a 34-year-old man who was crushed while working on a tipper truck at his Lilydale home on Sunday. It is believed the man was working on the chassis of the truck with the cargo bin raised when it fell on top of him. According to WorkSafe, these fatalities bring the number of workplace deaths this year to 42, which is two more than at the same time last year. Readers will notice that this number is a big jump from when we reported the two previous fatalities in the May 13 edition of SafetyNet, when the number was 23. This is because WorkSafe is now using the amended definition of a workplace death, which came into effect when the Workplace Manslaughter legislation kicked in on July 1 this year. Source: WorkSafe media release. Read more: Workplace deaths in Victoria almost double under new tally. Sydney Morning Herald; Workplace Manslaughter legislation. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

Due to COVID-19, our healthcare staff are currently being kept as separate as possible. There is only one 'tea room' in the workplace to share and another space has been allocated as a 'break room' for the staff being 'siloed'. The problem is that this space has no facilities and we are asked to use the 'tea room' for a short a time as possible, to use the microwave, the kettle and so on. Can we get a kettle for the second break room? There is no direct sink access, and the employer is suggesting it is a fire hazard. We would be happy to provide equipment to minimise the risk of fire - for example a fire blanket as there is in the actual tea room.

Why would having a kettle (or even better, setting up an urn and filling it in the morning) be a fire hazard? I would be challenging the employer on this perhaps baseless assertion! If the equipment is not damaged, and has been tested and tagged regularly (when new, it is taken to have been tested), there's no reason why it would be a fire hazard. 

Given that the current situation is going to probably last a while, I would recommend taking a look at what the employer 'needs to provide' to employees (under the Workplace amenities and work environment code of practice - see individual FAQs on this section of the site - the link to the code is on most of them). 

I suggest negotiating what can and should be provided in the new 'break room' so that it 'works' for everyone. It shouldn't be you providing the needed extra equipment, either, the employer has a duty under s21 to provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities.  I recommend that you make a time for a meeting with management, go in with a case: their duties, options, what you want, etc. See Resolution of Issues to see how to go about negotiating and coming up with a solution. If they don't come back with something reasonable, think about taking it further - issuing a PIN for example. 

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

AEU calls for greater flexible learning for schools 

The Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian branch has called on the Department of Education and Training (DET) to allow a flexible approach for both special schools and year 11 and 12 students in its learning guidelines for schools during term three, and allow schools to make suitable arrangements where necessary to provide high-quality public education as well as meet the needs of staff, students and parents. Those arrangements may include remote learning on set days or for set students.

AEU Victorian branch President Meredith Peace said the DET’s unwillingness to compromise and allow a flexible approach meant some students were missing out and had led to additional stress for principals, teachers and support staff. “We’re seeing drop-offs in attendance rates, particularly in our special schools, and because schools have not been authorised to make local decisions those kids who aren’t physically attending school are getting limited, if any education,” said Ms Peace. 

Some special schools have reported attendance rates of around 50 per cent, with many parents choosing to keep their children at home due to COVID-19 concerns and the high number of infections in Victoria. The AEU has been particularly concerned about special schools because the hands-on nature of the education and care of students makes physical distancing almost impossible, and staff have been frustrated by the lack of PPE and clear guidelines about its use.

“Right now, our special school staff feel they are being neglected and we want to see some action from the department that shows us they will prioritise the health and safety of their employees and students,” said Ms Peace. Read more: AEU media release

Principals want an end to face-to-face teaching in lockdown zones

Yesterday the Australian Principal's Federation (APF), the union for state school principals called on the Andrews government to abandon face-to-face classes for students in years 11 and 12 and in specialist schools and return to remote learning in Victoria's COVID-19 lockdown zones. More than one in 10 Victorian secondary schools were closed on Monday after being linked to a recent coronavirus infection, with most of the affected schools located in Melbourne’s north and west.

In light of the growing number of coronavirus-related closures - 59 by Monday afternoon - the Federation called  for "an immediate return to flexible learning for all students in metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire".  It also criticised DHHS's ''staggeringly poor" management of positive cases in schools, saying some had waited for days for advice on how to handle closures and contact tracing. Read more: The Age

ACTU survey for working from home

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has launched a survey on the impacts people are experiencing whilst working from home during the pandemic, and to gain insights into workers’ attitudes to this becoming a more permanent feature of work into the future.

The results will be used to build a claim for working people in terms of what concerns people have and what protections need to be built into the system if this is to become part of the ‘new normal’. You can fill out the survey here, and please distribute it widely - tell your colleagues, your friends and family about it. 

Aged care staff missing out on training, PPE, pay 

On Monday, the national office of the United Workers Union, which has aged care workers in a number of states (other than Victoria) released the results of a survey of more than 1000 members. It says the survey revealed shocking gaps in coronavirus preparations by aged care providers, and showed that lockdowns and other coronavirus measures had seriously affected aged care workers and the residents they care for, with staff shortages, increased workloads and some residents not seen for days at a stretch. The members surveyed are predominantly from Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia (residential) and NSW (home care).

Results from the survey include: 

 The union said the survey raised structural issues that make stopping coronavirus and keeping aged care staff challenging:

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