Two Victorian workers killed in the past week
The first fatality was last Wednesday October 28 when a worker died after being run over at a Yarraville transport depot. WorkSafe believes the 65-year-old was directing a co-worker to reverse a truck and trailer into a shed when he stumbled and fell into the path of the trailer. WorkSafe is investigating.
The second fatality occurred on Saturday October 31, in Melbourne's CBD. A 36 year-old food delivery worker was killed after a crash at the intersection of King and La Trobe streets at 7pm on Saturday, in what is the third death in a month among gig economy workers in Australia. The man, who worked for delivery company DoorDash, was taken to hospital but later died after he was hit by a woman driving an allegedly stolen car. A spokeswoman for DoorDash said Chow was completing a delivery when he was killed. The woman, who has been charged with culpable driving causing death and reckless conduct, also hit a pedestrian.
Tragically, according to Chinese-language news site Sydney Today, his family became concerned after they did not hear from him for 26 hours, and his sister received a call from the Malaysian consulate confirming that he had been killed.
The deaths bring the workplace fatality toll to 61 for 2020, five more than at the same time last year. The VTHC OHS Unit sends our sincerest condolences to the workers' families, friends and colleagues. No worker should die at work. Sources: The Guardian; WorkSafe Media release.
2020 HSR Conference - all materials now on the OHS Reps@Work website
All the materials - the pre-reading exercise, the Consultation proforma, the Psychosocial Risks survey, the slides presentations and even a shortened video of the conference sessions. Also on the page is a link to the 'Survey Tool' - use this to key in the results of the survey once you've distributed it to your DWG and collated the individual responses. Once you have loaded your results, you will get more information and a plan on what to do next.
Go to this page on our site: VTHC HSR 2020 Conference
Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
As Victoria continues to record 'double zero' figures (no new infections and no deaths for eleven days straight now), the figures around the world are an ongoing nightmare.
According to the latest official figures, there are 27,678 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - just 126 more than our last edition two weeks ago. The total number of COVID deaths remains at 907. The restrictions in Victoria have not been totally lifted - masks must still be worn whenever leaving the house; if workers can work from home they should; and although most businesses have opened and activities recommenced, there are limits in terms of numbers. Read more on the Victorian situation here.
The international situation continues to be dire: the cumulative number of infections is 51,790,088. Two weeks ago it was 44,235,091: this is an increase of over 7.55 million more infections in just two weeks. There have now been 1,278,449 confirmed COVID-related around the world.
In the US:
In the wake of the US election, President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to unify America and form a blueprint to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in his election victory speech. He has announced plans to appoint an expert panel of leading scientists and experts as "transition advisers" to help formulate a COVID plan. The problem for the American people is that Biden will not be sworn in until January 20, 2021, and it is unlikely that President Trump, who has not yet conceded defeat, will co-operate with any of theses plans. Over the weekend the US broke the record for new infections, with almost 130,000 positive tests in one day. Read more: ABC online.
In the UK: too little too late from the government
The UK is in the grip of a second wave. There have been a total of xx cases of COVID-19, with xx new infections yesterday and a total of xx deaths. The UK government’s failure to act sooner on rising infection risks and to offer proper income protection for all workers affected by the pandemic has left families facing a ‘grim winter’, the country's peak union body, the TUC has said. Responding to the prime ministers’ announcement on 31 October of a new four week lockdown for England to take effect from 5 November, the TUC called for the Treasury to provide additional support to protect jobs and income. The union body is also pressing for a publicly run and accountable test and trace system, decent sick pay and tougher safety standards at work - including a legal duty to publish risk assessments. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government should have acted decisively much sooner and now families face a grim winter. The extension of the furlough scheme is long overdue and necessary, but ministers must do more to protect jobs and prevent poverty.” The TUC leader added: “Furlough pay must never fall below the national minimum wage. We need a boost to Universal Credit and government should not abandon the self-employed. And we will not control the virus unless the government fixes the test and trace system and the scandal of workers asked to self-isolate without decent sick pay.” Read more: TUC news release. Prime minister’s statement and news release, 31 October 2020. Source: Risks 972
New film from Hazards - COVID transmission and killer workplaces
A new Hazards Campaign film explains why the coronavirus is so dangerous indoors, where aerosols can build up in the air. It notes COVID-19 risks can be higher in workplaces, where people spend long periods in an enclosed space in close proximity to others. The 27-minute film adds this is also why ventilation is so important and a critical factor that is barely mentioned in official guidance. The film, produced for the campaign by Reel News, and “explains what you can do to keep yourself and your workmates safe – using the latest information about Covid-19, extensive case studies of superspreader events and successful collective struggles by well-organised workplaces.” The film has many international experts, including some from Australia. It is an excellent resource for union training and awareness raising sessions. Check out the new resource here: Covid transmission and killer workplaces, a Reel News/Hazards Campaign film, November 2020.
For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
I participated in the VTHC's HSR Conference a couple of weeks ago and found it very interesting. The other HSRs and I have had some discussions with members of our DWGs and would now like to distribute the Psychosocial Risks survey for them to complete. Is there anything we need to be mindful of? Do we need permission to send surveys like this to employees? Can we use work email to distribute it?
This came up in our session at the conference and several HSRs have sent in similar queries since the day of the conference.
I think it's a good idea to let management know you're going to distribute an anonymous and totally voluntary survey to the members of your DWG/s as one of the ways to gather information on workplace risk factors to psychological health. As HSRs part of your role is to be able to represent the views of your DWG, to identify issues (hazards and risks) to raise with the employer, and to be part of the identification, assessment and control process. Undertaking a survey of the DWG members is one way to gather information. Other ways include walking around the workplace, undertaking inspections, running meetings, and so on. Inform them about the survey, and when it is likely to be done, as a matter of courtesy. If your employer or manager seeks to prevent or delay you undertaking the survey, or wants to be able to have input into the questions, or get the results directly, do not agree. Contact your union for assistance if you have any issues.
With regards to using the workplace email - I believe this should be acceptable, as under s69(1)(e) an employer must "provide such other facilities and assistance to a health and safety representative for the designated work group as are necessary or prescribed by the regulations to enable the representative to exercise his or her powers". However, as the regulations do not actually address this, the use of the workplace email system is something you need to clarify. My recommendation is that all HSRs should raise what facilities they need as soon as they return from training. These could include access to meeting rooms, telephone, photocopier, computers and internet, intranet or other email systems, and so on. Read more: Facilities and Time Off
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
Hospitality workers' hostility to insecure, casual work
As Melbourne’s hospitality industry reopens a new union report has revealed 77 percent of hospitality workers believe a permanent and secure job is either very or extremely important, showing that the industry’s dramatic shutdown in March has had a profound impact.
The report by Hospo Voice, the United Workers Union’s hospitality arm, is based on national surveys with 4281 workers during the pandemic and busts one of the hospitality industry’s biggest myths: that the irregularity of hospitality work is a lifestyle choice by workers. Overwhelmingly, workers report that a regular and reliable income is vitally important.
The findings come as the Federal Government’s proposed industrial relations reforms are expected to announce “part time flexibility” measures rather than address the systemic issues of insecure work and widespread wage theft.
The report, entitled #RebuildHospo: A Post-Covid Roadmap For Secure Jobs In Hospitality, reveals that during the pandemic the number of workers who believe a permanent job is very or extremely important jumped by 12 percent from 65 percent to 77 percent.
The report lifts the lid on how insecure work acts a force-multiplier for the biggest problems in the industry including wage theft and sexual harassment, as well as playing havoc with workers’ lives with 70 per cent reporting that shifts were reduced with little notice, and over 60 per cent saying their shifts varied dramatically from week to week.
Insecure work has also been linked directly by public health officials, such as Dr Brett Sutton, as an important factor driving the spread of the pandemic.
The report finds that at the height of the pandemic 85% of hospitality workers had their shifts cut or they lost their jobs. Furthermore:
- 47 per cent of workers did not have enough savings to cover a month’s basic expenses;
- 7 per cent of workers have had to borrow money from friends or family; 32 per cent accessed their super; 32 per cent fell behind in their bills;
- 20 per cent went without essentials; 12 per cent had to access a foodbank or charity;
- 7 per cent experienced a relationship breakdown;
- 91 per cent of workers said they are worried about mental health in hospitality, while sexual harassment remains a major concern, particularly for women workers.
Professor Marylouise McLaws, an infectious diseases expert at the University of New South Wales, has consistently highlighted the link between insecure work and the added risk of a coronavirus outbreak. “This pandemic has taken the lid off the inequality of Australian life,” said Professor McLaws, a member of the WHO’s Covid-19 response team. “Those that have underemployment – or are short of employment hours and have to work across multiple jobs – often share transport to work, and they may all live together. All of that adds to their risk.” She added: “These are the people we need to protect, because by protecting them, we protect the greater community. We need to give them a better level of employment and better income.”
Read more: Full Report. The New Daily. Source: UWU media release
Survey on Piece Rates and Exploitation
A survey is being conducted by the Victorian Trades Hall Council's Migrant Workers' Centre and the Migrant Workers Hub, empowered by UnionsNSW.
Farm workers are often subject to exploitation. Many are paid less than the Award and work very long hours. In particular, those working by piece rate struggle to earn a living wage with many being forced to pay exorbitant prices for accommodation and transport provided by their employer. Such oppressive conditions are at times endured because of the need to meet visa requirements.
The survey aims to identify issues experienced by workers in the horticulture sector as a result of unfairness in the current wage structure. Results will be used to raise awareness and to assist in the fight for legal reform. If you are working in this sector, please take the quick survey now. If you know of anyone who is working in the farming sector, please encourage them to take it as well. Piece Rates and Exploitation survey
Have you downloaded OHS Help yet?
This is a reminder of the ACTU's new OHS Help - a free, all-in-one app for Health and Safety Representatives. It’s designed to help Health and Safety Representatives stay informed, organised and in-touch with their unions. HSRs can use the app to identify workplace hazards and access factsheets written in plain language. The app also allows HSRs to log issues as they find them, and to share the details with their employer, workmates and/or union delegate. Check out the website for videos and to get started.
Asbestos Awareness Week November 23 - 29
Asbestos is still present in millions of Australian buildings and can be easily disturbed when doing renovations, home improvements and maintenance. If a building (workplaces, offices, hospitals, homes, etc) was built or renovated prior to 1990, there is a good chance it has some asbestos.
The theme for 2020 is ‘Asbestos lurks in more places than you’d think’ and will be supplemented with the sub-theme ‘before you start, be aware’.
The sub-theme relates to the fact that people are using the extra time we all have at home due to COVID-19 to do home improvements and maintenance. It encourages people to be aware of the potential asbestos risks before they start any work.
The campaign messaging has three parts:
- KNOW the health risks of asbestos exposure
- BE AWARE of where asbestos might be found before you start work (“it lurks in more places than you’d think”)
- CALL a professional to check, remove and dispose of it safely.
A campaign pack has been developed which provides a range of template materials, social tiles and graphics for organisations and individuals to use.
International union news
UK: NUJ demands action to protect and safeguard journalists
A survey by the journalists’ union NUJ has uncovered ‘shocking evidence’ of abuse and harassment, with journalists revealing they have been punched, threatened with knives, forcibly detained, kicked and spat at while doing their job. As well as physical assault, NUJ says it members are being threatened online and offline, including death threats, rape threats and other threats to their families and homes. Almost 9 in 10 (89 per cent) respondents said their employer had not provided any training to deal with harassment and abuse and over half (56 per cent) said they did not know if their media employer had any policies in place to deal with safety and protection issues.
Commenting on 1 November, the UN day to end impunity for crimes against journalists, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “It is wholly unacceptable and outrageous that NUJ members are being routinely abused, harassed and intimidated in the course of doing their job. Those in frontline roles, such as reporters, photographers and presenters, are particularly impacted but any media worker should be able to go about their work without fearing for their own safety or that of their family. Such abuse and harassment goes beyond the awful personal impact - it also risks silencing journalists and censoring debates.” She added: “On a day journalists around the world collectively stand up to demand an end to the impunity that allows crimes against media workers to proliferate and stand unpunished, the NUJ is stepping up its campaign to ensure the safety and protection of journalists and journalism.” The NUJ leader concluded: “As part of the newly established National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, we are committed to ensuring the committee’s Action Plan tackles this problem, that employers do more to ensure the safety of journalists facing abuse, providing adequate training and ensuring that freelances are given better support, and that police deal with cases more robustly and consistently.” Read more: NUJ safety report 2020. IFJ news release, end immunity campaign and report,Dirty Hands; Still in Power. Source: Risks 972
USA: Unions sue over shelved infection standard
US teaching and health care unions have started legal proceedings against Donald Trump’s labour secretary Eugene Scalia and the safety regulator OSHA for unlawfully delaying rulemaking on an occupational standard to protect healthcare workers from infectious diseases transmitted by contact, droplets, or air - like influenza, COVID-19, and Ebola. The move comes in response to the Trump administration shelving a ready-to-go Infectious Diseases Standard in 2017.
The four unions, under a joint Democracy Forward banner, charge that the administration’s unreasonable delay violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The unions are suing to compel OSHA to advance rulemaking on the standard, which would require healthcare employers who run hospitals, clinics, school nurse offices, drug treatment programmes, and similar workplaces to protect their employees from exposure to harmful infectious diseases.
“In times of national crisis, the government’s job is to protect people — and in the case of protecting workers on the front line of this pandemic, the federal government has failed,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the four unions behind the legal action. “OSHA has failed to regulate employers, which in turn have failed to protect the people caring for COVID-19 patients. As a result, healthcare worker infection rates remain troublingly high. This immoral treatment of the healthcare heroes carrying us through this crisis must end, and both OSHA and employers must be held accountable to make hospitals safe for the people who work there.”
A September study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, published by the US government public health agency CDC, found health care workers who reported being short of PPE were more likely to test positive than those with sufficient supplies.
Read more: AFT news release and the 29 October 2020 petition for mandamus (the court filing) and the full appendix. JAMA news report.
Wesley H Self and others. Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 Among Frontline Health Care Personnel in a Multistate Hospital Network — 13 Academic Medical Centers, April–June 2020, [pdf] Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), volume 69, number 35, pages 1221-1226, 4 September 2020. Source: Risks 972