Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 21,750 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 3,022 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 332 people have died - 100 more than last week.  This morning the Premier announced there have been 410 new cases diagnosed since yesterday and 20 more fatalities. The curve is certainly flattening, with the Stage 4 restrictions now having effect. However numbers are still too high and it is hoped that over the next week we will see more dramatic reductions. 

In the media conference this morning, the Premier called for less movement between regions. He said, "We have seen some increases of concern to us in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. They are stable. They're very low numbers, but coming off such a low base, any additional cases are of concern to us." Consequently, Mr Andrews said, "I just ask people to give that little bit of extra thought to that and if there's any sense that that trip could be avoided, that that travel could be limited, well then that is conducive with less movement, less cases and getting to the other side of this." Read more on the Victorian situation here.

Remember: the ACTU is calling for pandemic leave for all workers - while there have been some payments, equivalent to pandemic leave, made available to Victorians - announced by the Federal government, but paid for by the state government, there are still many workers who are missing out. 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 ACTU's has also set up a page to email your MP to demand Paid Pandemic Leave. 

The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at 20,503,280  - last Wednesday it was 18,683,573, this is once again over 1.8 million more infections. There have now been 744,527 deaths around the world.  Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

Can you tell me whether my employer has to have a workplace COVIDSafe plan - and what should be in it?

Under Stage 4 restrictions now in place in metropolitan Melbourne, all open businesses and services must now  have a COVIDSafe plan in place (as of 11:59pm Friday 7 August). This plan must focus on safety, prevention and response in the event that coronavirus is linked to the workplace. Meat processing plants (including poultry and seafood) around the state must also have COVIDSafe plan. 

The COVIDSafe Plan must set out:  

  • The employer's actions to help prevent the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace 
  • The level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required in your workplace 
  • How the employer will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in your workplace 
  • How the employer will meet all of the requirements set out by the Victorian Government. Some higher-risk industries or workplaces have additional requirements of employers and employees.   

More information can be found on this section of the Business Victoria website. There is a template provided which can be utilised.

Remember, your employer has a duty to consult with HSRs under s35 of the Act, including when developing and implementing the COVIDSafe plan. Contact your union or the OHS Team at Trades Hall if you have any questions.

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

ACTU COVID-19 resources

As many workplaces around Australia are being affected by the pandemic, the peak union council, the ACTU, has put together a range of free resources for working people about coronavirus and their workplace rights and safety. The peak union body has a dedicated COVID-Aware fact-sheet site from where HSRs and other can download a kit.  The ACTU Support Centre can also provide free and confidential advice on any additional questions workers may have about their rights at work and COVID-19. The Support Centre phone number is 1300 486 466.

HSRs take action, issue Cease Works  

Last Friday, August 7, some workers at a distribution centre at Truganina stopped work after their HSRs issued a cease work order. The massive $120 million site on Melbourne's western fringe supplies products to all Kmart stores across Victoria but is run by the logistics company Toll.

Three workers at had been told to isolate after a staff member, whose most recent shift was on Friday July 31, recorded a positive result on Wednesday last week. The distribution centre was cleaned on Thursday afternoon and was due to have started up again on Friday August 7. After the HSRs issued the cease work, staff was threatened over the site's loudspeakers that they would be disciplined if they took this action - check the footage on the UWU's Twitter feed here.
Read more: The Age

Poultry worker dies of COVID-19

In what may be the first reported fatality tied to a workplace infection, a Victorian chicken plant worker has been found dead in his home after contracting COVID-19. the 51 year old reportedly contracted the virus at the Golden Farms plant at Breakwater, near Geelong, which has been linked to 44 cases. The long time United Workers Union member had been employed at Golden Farms for more than 15 years.

The UWU reports that Golden Farms recently shut down following the identification of a number of positive COVID-19 cases at the worksite. The Union understands that at the time of death the worker was isolating as a result of contracting COVID-19. 

Workers are demanding Golden Farms provide answers on whether he contracted the virus at Golden Farms. If the cause of death is determined to be related to contracting COVID-19 at his workplace, then workers stand ready to fight for justice for their co-worker.

“This case highlights the absolute gravity of the current situation facing essential food workers. It is tragic that workers could contract this deadly virus simply because they have turned up to work to feed our communities,” said UWU’s Director of Food and Beverage Susie Allison. “Food workers across the country are putting their own lives and their family lives at risk by attending work to ensure our supermarkets remain stocked. Every measure must be taken to ensure their safety. In particular, workers must be provided with readily accessible paid pandemic leave so they are not forced to choose between keeping their workmates safe and no income or digging into sparse leave entitlements.”

Meat processing and abattoirs have been deemed “high risk” sectors under Victoria’s Stage 4 restrictions, with poultry production cut back to 80 per cent of full operational capacity. More than 870 cases have been linked to meat facilities in Victoria since the pandemic began. Read more: UWU media statement

Teachers lodge most COVID-19 compensation claims

According to the ABC, more teachers have had WorkCover claims approved for conditions, such as mental injury, related to the pandemic than people in any other profession in Victoria. 

The figures supplied to the ABC show that fewer health professionals who have contracted coronavirus at work have had claims approved than teachers who have not contracted the virus. This is despite the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reporting over 1,200 Victorian health professionals have tested positive.

As of July 30, there were 111 people who had had claims relating to coronavirus approved – but it is expected that these numbers will rise. For example, few, if any, workers from one of Victoria's largest clusters at Cedar Meats Australia, have submitted WorkCover claims, despite least one worker spent several weeks in intensive care.

Justin Mullaly, the Victorian deputy president of the Australian Education Union, said it was also possible some teachers who had contracted the virus at work had not put in WorkCover claims because they could access three months of specific infectious disease leave under their agreement. Read more: ABC News online

August 14: ANMF Conference on Psychological Hazards in Healthcare

The final reminder of the ANMF's online conference on Psychological Hazards in Healthcare, which will be this Friday. According to the union: “Whether you’re a nurse, midwife or personal care worker, the online 2020 Psychological Hazards in Healthcare Conference will provide you with information and skills to recognise, report and manage psychological hazards.”

Psychological hazards such as bullying and harassment are just as damaging to healthcare workers as physical hazards associated with lifting and moving patients. Hazards such as excessive workload and occupational violence and aggression can place pressure on the psychological health of nurses, midwives and personal care workers.
Find out more here and register now for the 2020 Psychological Hazards in Healthcare Conference, to be held online from 9 am to 1 pm on 14 August.

Asbestos news  

SA: Asbestos removalist fined and convicted 

A South Australian waste removalist convicted of assaulting two environment protection officers was given a suspended sentence, and his company has been fined $49,000 for illegally storing more than 17 tonnes of asbestos.

Gavin Piller snatched a camera and audio recorder from two SA's Environment Protection Authority (EPA) officers. He grabbed one of the officers by the shirt, pushed him to the ground and punched him in the head. After being pulled off the officer, he grabbed a piece of wood before being disarmed by a worker from behind. Piller was convicted of two counts of assaulting an EPA officer, using abusive language and two counts of hindering an EPA officer. A 12-month jail sentence was suspended, but the court imposed a $500 good behaviour bond and a $2,100 fine.

Piller's company, GP and Sons, pleaded guilty to illegally stockpiling seven tonnes of asbestos at one of its depots between January 29 and February 2, 2018, and a further 10 tonnes at another depot between March 27 and May 2, 2018. The company was fined $49,000.

EPA chief executive Tony Circelli said, "This type of illegal activity will not be tolerated — it risks both harm to the environment and the community, and damages confidence for investment and fair play for legitimate waste operators."
Read more: ABC News online

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

International Union news

Global: Danone agrees to support workers post-COVID

The global food and farming union federation IUF and food multinational Danone have committed to opening negotiations on measures to support workers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. A joint statement recognises that, as a priority, any future agreement will need to focus on identifying and protecting the most vulnerable workers within Danone. Criteria would include workers with low qualification levels and salaries, women and those at risk from systemic racism and discrimination. IUF said a new agreement with the firm would give priority to repositioning workers within the company in the event that employment changes are proposed. It said this “would be achieved by focusing on upskilling programmes that provide employees with new skills to facilitate internal repositioning within Danone but could also be of value and practical assistance in the broader jobs market.”

It added: “During the training, which could last up to two years, Danone would guarantee that workers retain their Danone employment contracts, salaries, and relevant benefits. Implementation would be through negotiations between IUF affiliates and management at local and national level while monitoring would take place through the established mechanism used to monitor all existing IUF-Danone agreements.”
Read more: IUF news release and IUF/Danone joint statement [pdf]. Source: Risks 959

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