Union News

October 15: 50th Anniversary of West Gate Bridge collapse live streamed event

At 11.50am on October 15 1970, a span of the West Gate Bridge, then under construction, collapsed. 2000 tonnes of steel fell 45 metres - 35 workers were killed, 17 were injured. Some ‘rode’ the bridge down and, miraculously, survived. All were traumatised, as were many people living the working class suburbs surrounding it.

Tomorrow morning at 11.30 am join us on a live streamed event to remember those workers who were killed 50 years ago. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place in metropolitan Melbourne, there will no event at the memorial. Instead, there will be a live streamed event on the VTHC Facebook page

Hear from guest speakers David Setka, James Webster and Tommy Watson, who was working on the bridge the day it collapsed. Tommy went on to become a union official and eventually President of the CFMEU. Dave Setka is the grandson of Bob Setka, one of the 18 workers who survived on that day, and James Webster is the grandson of a worker who was killed. 
We have written a Feature article on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, which will also be published in the next Workers Solidarity Bulletin.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 27,317 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - 136 more than last week. The total number of COVID deaths is 897. After  ten (!) weeks in lockdown, yesterday there were seven new cases in Victoria - below ten for the first time in a few days. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation seems to be worsening in terms of second wave numbers: the cumulative number of infections is 38,347,804. Last Wednesday it was 36,041,783this is over 2.3 million more infections in just one week. There have now been 1,090,193 confirmed COVID-related around the world.  

Just a week after it was announced that he tested positive for Coronavirus, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, is back out campaigning and appearing at mass rallies. He has also announced that he is no longer infectious and that he is immune - both claims that have been met by scepticism.  And in news that the virus does not discriminate, Cristiano Ronaldo has become the latest international star to test positive for COVID-19. Read more: Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo tests positive for COVID-19. The Sydney Morning Herald. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hello OHS Unit 

My neighbour's house is to be removed to make way for house units. I am concerned that it contains asbestos.

I can't help you other than give you information and advise you in terms of what should happen and what you can do.  
The OHS laws in Victoria apply in this case, as the site will become a workplace. The Asbestos regulations require that before any demolition of a building which may contain asbestos, including a house, is done, the asbestos must be removed by a licensed asbestos removalist. 
Persons who manage or control workplaces have duties if there is to be any demolition or refurbishment. These duties apply to all types of asbestos and also apply to workplaces and domestic premises. These include:
  • a review of their and the employer's asbestos registers, which must be revised if inadequate having regard to the proposed demolition or refurbishment;
  • if an employer/self-employed person (SEP) is doing the demolition/refurbishment - to obtain copies of registers
  • further identification of any possible asbestos;
  • identification and removal of asbestos before demolition and refurbishment;
  • if there is no register - which may be the case if the building is a private home, then the demolition or refurbishment work cannot begin until the employer/SEP has determined whether asbestos is present. If it is present, then the employer/SEP must inform the person with management or control
  • set requirements for removal work (only by a licenced removalist unless it is a removal permitted under 'Limited removal without a licence' - this is only if there is 10 square metres or less of asbestos in good condition, which can be removed in less than an hour)
So.. what you can do is as soon as you can, go to the site and find out what company is doing the demolition and whether they have an asbestos removalists licence. If they do, then make sure that the removal is done before they begin the demolition. If the company does not have a licence, then ask them which company they are using to remove the asbestos.
If you have any problems getting the information, then tell them you will contact WorkSafe Victoria - to alert the regulator this is going on and tell them you will be requesting that WorkSafe send out an inspector immediately. Make sure you do this as soon as you can if they don't cooperate OR if you want to check that they in fact have a removalists licence.  WorkSafe's number is 1800 136 089.  Read more: Asbestos

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

VTHC HSR Conference October 27

If you are an HSR and have not yet registered for the 2020 VTHC OHS Conference on October 27th 2020, then do so quickly. While you will still be able to participate, but after this week we will not be sending materials out as they would not arrive in time. However, all the materials will be available to download from our website. Remember too 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, including a copy of the s69 Approval letter from WorkSafe and register here

Reminder: Anna Stewart Memorial Project for women unionists on now

Designed to encourage more women to be active in unions, the Anna Stewart Memorial Project (ASMP), which began on Monday and will end on October 23, is a structured, two week long skills development and leadership program designed and run by the VTHC's wonderful We Are Union Women team. The interactive workshops will be online via Zoom. 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, many of the ASMP workshops will be recorded and available on the We Are Union Women Facebook page

The 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: [email protected]

New Website resource for women in trades

The VTHC Jobs Team has just launched a new website for women in trades: WomenOnsite. The mission of the Women Onsite project is a straightforward one: to support Victorian women toward apprenticeships or traineeships in male dominated industries.

Since the 1980s, women have represented less than two per cent (2%) of the Aussie trades workforce! There is work to be done. Women Onsite are breaking ground and will be working with women and employers through 2020/2021. The team’s goal is to better support both, now and on the road ahead. The focus will be on what works. The project is taking an evidence-based approach to the task – in consultation with tradies, employers, academics and government. In turn, the learnings from this project will contribute to future initiatives in this area. Check out the website here- - it's got Herstory, career stories, news and much more. 

WA: Young worker killed, two injured in Curtin University roof collapse

A 23-year-old apprentice worker was killed and two others have been injured after a glass roof collapsed at a construction site at Curtin University in Western Australia yesterday.

Emergency services were called at 12:34pm after the roof gave way at the worksite, operated by contractor Lendlease near the medical school at Curtin's Perth campus. Police said two construction workers had been standing on the building's canopy carrying out work when it suddenly gave way, with both men falling 20 metres to the ground.

The site is run by Lendlease, which said both the worker who died and the two men who were injured were subcontractors.  Electrical Trades Union WA organiser Damian Clancey witnessed the collapse, which happened during a lunch break. "If it had happened five minutes earlier, there would have been probably 15 to 20 people working in that area, so we're very lucky," he said.

CFMEU state secretary Mick Buchan said he'd been made aware after the incident of issues with "deflection in the structural steel. Those issues were addressed by structural engineers ... (but) I understand that there were some concerns," he said. "It's 2020. These events should not occur in the building and construction industry."

A WorkSafe investigation is underway into why the building roof collapsed. Sources: ABC news online; Perth Now

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. 

Asbestos news  

$5m in federal funding for research into mesothelioma and lung cancer

Research to improve the treatment of mesothelioma and lung cancer and a program designed to improve the health and wellbeing of older Aboriginal Australians are among two Centres for Research Excellence from The University of Western Australia to have received a combined $5 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council Centres of Research Excellence (NHMRC).

Professor Anna Nowak, Director of UWA’s National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases, and her team are part of a world-leading centre studying the deadly cancers mesothelioma and lung cancer. The team received $2.5 million in NHMRC funding which will help them develop new treatments, new ways of imaging cancer and ways to improve care of people living with these cancers. Read more: Mirage news

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

International union news

Europe: Major coalition aims to stop cancer at work

A Stop Cancer at Work Campaign has been launched by coalition of professional organisations, trades unions and patient groups. The groups say their objective is to ensure that the current fourth revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD) includes groups of carcinogenic and mutagenic hazardous drugs, which cause cancer, and that have not been included by the European Commission in proposals published on 22 September 2020. They say cancer is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the EU, with over 120,000 work-related cancer cases recorded each year. A statement from the coalition notes: “In its proposal, the European Commission introduced binding occupational exposure limit values for three carcinogens, which we welcome, but the Commission also left out reprotoxins as well as carcinogenic and mutagenic hazardous drugs. There is a wide range of reproductive health problems caused by workplace exposure to reprotoxins including: reduced fertility or infertility, erectile dysfunction, menstrual cycle and ovulatory disorders, miscarriage, stillbirth, babies born too soon or too small, birth defects, child developmental disorders.” The campaign will run for most of 2020 and 2021 and is urging those supporting its objectives to sign an online petition calling for the EU institutions “to take action and accept the necessary legislative changes to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive.”
Read more: Stop Cancer at Work campaign news releasewebsite and petition. Source: Risks 969

USA: Trump administration accused of Covid ‘forced labour’

Trade unions in the US have filed a complaint with the United Nations' International Labour Organisation (ILO), making the case that under the Trump administration, the US has violated a catalogue of labour laws during the coronavirus pandemic. National union federation AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed the complaint with ILO, detailing how the White House has undermined the quality and enforcement of labour laws and occupational health and safety measures. The union complaint accused the US of labour rights violations “in the realm of potential wrongdoing typically occupied by less-developed and less-democratic countries.” It said these forced workers to risk infection or lose their jobs and potentially unemployment benefits, this amounting to a system of “forced labour.”

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumpka told the Washington Post: “Covid has laid bare what we already knew. It has demonstrated that not only is the US violating workers' rights, but those violations are resulting in people dying. It became so outrageous that we wanted to file a complaint.” The paper reported that the complaint characterised Trump's executive action as giving “a green light for employers to force workers to report for work and risk their lives or lose their jobs” which “is tantamount to forced labour.” The US has ratified an ILO convention prohibiting forced labour. The report also argues that when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in March suspended union elections and notified employers that they “could avoid bargaining about proposed layoffs because of the pandemic” this was to the serious detriment of workers’ rights. Read more: Common DreamsMass Device. Source: Risks 969

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