Union News

Register now: VTHC HSR Conference October 27

We now have 1560 people registered to attend our 2020 VTHC OHS Conference on October 27th 2020. We invite HSRs and DHSRs to register now, remembering that HSRs are entitled to a day's leave with pay if they register and inform their employer at least 14 days in advance.  

To remind everyone, the theme this year is Risks to Psychological Health, and it’s being held entirely online. Read more about the conference on this page of the website. 

With uncertainty regarding restrictions in Melbourne and across Victoria due to COVID-19, this year the conference is going to be held entirely online - but it's still going to be a great experience.

We’ll be mailing a parcel of materials to HSRs and deputies with everything you’ll need to make the day a success - but to make sure it arrives on time, you need to register by this Friday so there’s plenty of time for yours to arrive. Find all the details and register here

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Last weekend the world reached a terrible milestone: over 1 million people have now been confirmed as having died of coronavirus.

According to the latest official figures, there are 27,055 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - just 98 more than last week. The total number of COVID deaths is 882. After almost six weeks under Stage 4 restrictions, the numbers are steadily decreasing in Victoria, with only 15 diagnosed yesterday.  (note that these figures may not include today's numbers). Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation continues to be dire: the cumulative number of infections is 33,828,215. Last Wednesday it was 31,765,063this is again over 2 million more infections in just one week. There have now been 1,011,887 confirmed COVID-related around the world. 

Deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses have doubled from half a million in just three months, led by fatalities in the United States, Brazil and India. More than 5,400 people are dying around the world every 24 hours, according to Reuters calculations based on average deaths so far in September.

But of great concern is that the official number of deaths is not accurate: the World Health Organisation believes the world’s fate is far worse. Mike Ryan, the head of WHO’s emergency response, believes the death toll is much higher as multiple countries face scrutiny over the transparency of their fatality recording. "If anything, the numbers currently reported probably represent an underestimate of those individuals who have either contracted COVID-19 or died as a cause of it,” he told reporters earlier this week. Read more: Yahoo news. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

Can my union organiser enter my workplace if I have a health or safety concern? My boss told me the union can't come in - because of COVID-19 restrictions the company has the right to bar 'outsiders', such as my ARREOs or my union organiser, from entering the workplace. Is this right?

Your union organiser has the right to enter a workplace either if requested by an HSR seeking assistance under s58(1)(f) of the Act, or if the organiser seeks entry under the ARREO Entry Permit. In this second instance, the organiser must give notice to the employer immediately on entering the workplace, and taking all reasonable steps to giving a notice of entry and show the entry permit to the employer.

Recently, an employer attempted, and failed, to prevent a union's safety visits to the workplace based on alleged 'COVID grounds'. Bervar Pty Ltd, trading as Della Rosa Fresh Food, claimed that United Workers Union (UWU) permit holders failed to comply with its reasonable COVID-19-related safety requirements at its Campbellfield, Victoria facility. The union had sought to enter the site on three occasions between April and June this year, after receiving reports from members that Della Rosa's measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 were inadequate.

Della Rosa sought orders from the FWC suspending or restricting the UWU's right to enter its premises, saying it had closed the building to visitors because of the pandemic. It denied the OHS issues alleged. However Fair Work Commission Deputy President Alan Colman rejected these claims and declined to limit the union's entry rights. Nevertheless, he urged the parties to cooperate however, and "deal with any concerns about suspected contraventions remotely, in those cases where it is reasonably practicable to do so".  

The UWU argued that every time they tried to enter it was because of a genuine OHS issue raised by Della Rosa workers - and that Victoria's lockdown rules for workplaces permitted unions and other bodies to attend worksites to provide OHS advice. The union said it had implemented special pandemic measures for site visits, and was limiting such visits because of COVID-19. However, it was important it retained the ability to enter premises to represent its members. 

So yes, your union can visit your workplace to look into OHS concerns and provide advice and information. This case at the Fair Work Commission confirms this. 

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

12 - 23 October: Anna Stewart Memorial Project for women unionists

Designed to encourage more women to be active in unions, the Anna Stewart Memorial Project (ASMP) is a structured, two week long skills development and leadership program designed and run by the VTHC's wonderful We Are Union Women team. This year, their amazing interactive workshops will be online via Zoom. The team is excited to offer a jam-packed program with a broad range of workshops where participating women will hear from union and other workplace experts and have the opportunity to share and develop their skills alongside other union women.

The 15 workshops cover a range of topics including:

  • Sexual Harassment and Gendered Violence at Work
  • Union Women’s History Insecure Work, Covid19 and the Impact on Women Workers
  • Superannuation
  • The industrial relations system
  • Women in Bargaining
  • and much more

If you see a workshop that you would like to participate in but just can’t fit it in, don’t worry many of the ASMP workshops will be recorded and available on the We Are Union Women Facebook page. 

Who can participate?

This year ASMP is free and open to any woman who is a member of her union and would like to participate. Women can register and attend as many workshops as they like which means being able to tailor the program to fit specific skills, interests, and schedule. If a participant would like to receive a certificate of completion for the Anna Stewart Memorial Project then she will need to attend at least five workshops over the course of the two week program. A participant can choose any five workshops - none is compulsory. 

Women who have access to union training leave in their workplace agreement can apply for this leave to attend the ASMP. For more information on how to apply for union training leave contact the union. Check out the ASPM program and register for workshops here. For more information email Jodie at: jpeskett@vthc.org.au

Reminder to Gig workers: complete our survey now! 

Two weeks ago the VTHC Young Workers Team launched a new survey to get the views of gig workers. The Daniel Andrews State government wants to take action to better regulate gig platforms, following the findings of a major report into the gig economy. It's a chance to fix the wage violations, dodgy employment arrangements, and unsafe working conditions plaguing the gig economy in Victoria. 

The State Government will soon decide what recommendations it plans to pursue, and it is crucial to ensure that those changes are in line with what affected workers want. So the VTHC’s Young Workers Centre Gig Economy Survey for any worker who currently or has previously used online apps and platforms to find work; from transport and delivery platforms like Uber and Deliveroo, to health and caring work on platforms like Mable and Care.com, to ‘odd jobs’ platforms like Airtasker.

If that’s you - fill in the survey to tell the government how you want your working life to be improved, and together the VTHC will fight to make sure it happens. For those with friends or family members who work in the sector: tell them about the survey too. 

Vale Susan Ryan - architect of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984

Last weekend Susan Ryan, the first woman to serve in a Labor federal cabinet and who later became the first Age Discrimination Commissioner, died, aged 77. When she was elected to the Senate in 1975, Ms Ryan was a 33 year-old single mother. She entered the Hawke cabinet in 1983 as the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and also took on the new portfolio of Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, a role she held until her resignation from Parliament in 1988. Ms Ryan was the architect of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy.

After retiring from Parliament Ms Ryan was active in the Republican movement and also in the sphere of superannuation. In 2011 she was appointed the inaugural Age Discrimination Commissioner, and later expanded her remit to include the responsibilities of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner when the two roles were merged in 2014. Many have rightly described her as a trailblazer for the rights of all women. 

Vale Helen Reddy, composer of feminist anthem

Another feminist icon has died: Helen Reddy who became a global superstar with her hit I Am Woman, died in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of 78. After arriving in New York as a 24-year-old single mother of a three-year-old with just over $US200 to her name, she overcame years of struggle in the US to become the world's top-selling female singer in 1973 and 1974. 

She won a Grammy for I Am Woman and when accepting the award, she famously thanked "God, because She makes everything possible". The empowering lyrics of the song: "I am woman, hear me roar/ In numbers too big to ignore" became her enduring legacy. Read more: Sydney Morning Herald

Asbestos news  

Asbestos death in Malta

This week a TV documentary by Liam Carter entitled “Mewta Siekta” [Silent Death] was broadcast in Malta. The film examines the plight of former drydock workers who were occupationally exposed to asbestos and, as a result, are now suffering from life-threatening conditions. Medical experts explained the health hazards posed by these exposures not only to the workers but also to the wives who washed contaminated work clothes. See: Silent death: The Drydock employees who died from asbestos exposure. Malta Today. Source: IBAS

Canada: Anger as ‘non-profit’ pushes asbestos globally

A lobby group promoting asbestos sales in developing nations and listed in Quebec as a public interest ‘non-profit’ should be deregistered by the provincial government, health campaigners have said. In a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault, Kathleen Ruff of RightOnCanada and Dr Jean Zigby, past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, call for the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) to be stripped of its non-profit status under the Quebec Companies Act. According to the Quebec government non-profit organisations incorporated in the province must undertake moral or altruistic activities. Ruff and Zigby say legal precedents have established the courts have the authority to remove ICA’s non-profit status because of its ‘immoral, deadly activities’. The August 2020 findings of a Quebec government commissioned independent commission into chrysotile asbestos “rejected the misinformation disseminated by the ICA and called on the Quebec government to take action to protect the people of Quebec from asbestos,” Ruff and Zigby say. Calling for ICA to be denied non-profit status, they note: “For the past 23 years the ICA, operating out of Quebec, has played a leading role in obstructing bans on asbestos in developing countries and in sabotaging protections against asbestos harm under the UN Rotterdam Convention. At the moment Quebec is employing a double standard and is treating the lives of people overseas as having less value than the people of Quebec. This is bringing dishonour on Quebec and is against the public interest.” Read more: RightOnCanada blog. Source: Risks 967

Brazil: Asbestos Mining - A Constitutional Crisis

Although the Brazilian Supreme Court banned the commercial exploitation of asbestos in 2017, the Eternit-owned SAMA chrysotile asbestos mine is still operational under Goiás state law permitting mining to continue. The constitutional crisis revealed by this situation is explored in a blog by retired factory inspector Fernanda Giannasi who deplored the double standards of Eternit’s current policy promoting continued asbestos mining for export as “environmental racism.”
Read more: Fernanda Giannasi (ABREA) comenta a entrevista do Presidente da Eternit, Luis Augusto Barbosa, à revista Exame, publicada em 23/9/2020 [Fernanda Giannasi (ABREA) comments on the interview of Eternit's President, Luis Augusto Barbosa, to Exame magazine] Source: IBAS

France: Asbestos Anxiety

On Thursday September 24, 2020, the Court of Appeal of Nancy, France recognized the condition of asbestos anxiety suffered by 264 former employees of the Baccarat crystal glassware factory in Baccarat, France. The claimants, part of the second asbestos class action against the company, were each awarded the sum of €9,000 (AD$14,790). A third lawsuit on behalf of 153 more workers is pending.
Source: [Subscription] Amiante: le préjudice d’anxiété reconnu pour 264 ex-salariés de Baccarat [Asbestos: the prejudice of anxiety recognized for 264 former employees of Baccarat]. IBAS

UK: Asbestos Diseases in Healthcare Sector

A new study by the University of Sheffield has highlighted the repercussions of the asbestos contamination of UK healthcare facilities and recommended that NHS staff and others employed in these premises be provided with training regarding the hazards of asbestos exposures. These actions would prevent avoidable exposures and reduce the incidence of asbestos cancers amongst healthcare workers. Welcoming this publication, Liz Darlison of Mesothelioma UK said: “Mesothelioma UK will ensure that this research raises awareness of the risk of exposure to healthcare staff and hopefully, improve the treatment and care given to them by medical teams and support agencies.”
Read more: Include asbestos risk awareness in NHS staff training, study recommends. Personnel Today, Source: IBAS

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

International union news

UK: Government underplays COVID risks in workplaces 

Michael Gove, England's Cabinet Office Minister, has claimed that only limited restrictions were necessary because “workplace are now safer” came just four days after came four days after the latest official Public Health England (PHE) figures showed workplace outbreaks are at a record high. The statistics suggest there had been well over 600 outbreaks in workplaces in one week. Some days later came new advice: “We are stressing that if it is safe to work in your workplace, if you are in a Covid-secure workplace, then you should be there if your job requires it. But, if you can work from home you should.” The new message brings England into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have all advised people to work from home wherever possible throughout the pandemic. Source: Risks 966

France: Burned out virus testers strike over conditions

Hundreds of workers at COVID-19 laboratories in France went on strike on 17 September over the poor working conditions in the over-stretched coronavirus testing system. The CGT union said the strike was disrupting testing in some towns and could drag on if laboratory owners failed to deal with staff shortages and increase pay. France has ramped up testing six-fold since the peak of the first wave and carried out 1.2 million tests in one week, health minister Olivier Veran told a news conference. But at some testing centres, people queue around the block and results can take days because of the bottleneck in laboratories. Le Figaro reported that in a meeting with senior ministers last week, President Emmanuel Macron said: “One million tests is all well and good, but it’s pointless if the results arrive too late.” The lab workers strike coincided with street protests organised by the CGT and other unions in numerous cities across France. Read more: US News and World Report. The Telegraph. Source: Risks 966

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