Union News

Two Victorian workers killed in the past week 

On Thursday last week, a farm hand was killed while operating a telehandler on a property at Gerang Gerung, near Dimboola. WorkSafe, which is investigating the fatality, believes the 29-year-old was preparing to remove bales from a stack when a raised bale attachment made contact with overhead power lines.

The second death is disturbing and tragic. A young woman was stabbed to death in the early hours of Monday morning when an intruder broke into her home. The 23 year old woman had gone to police about her alleged killer, an ex-colleague her family says became obsessed with her after she was kind to him the day he was fired. The young woman was a team leader at a Mill Park call centre run by global company Serco. The man who allegedly stalked her was one of her former team members who left the company about a year ago. Police are investigating. 

Her brother said: "(the man) got fired and she wasn’t close with him at all but just to give him some support she walked him out the door, and ever since that day he has just been obsessed with her," he said. Her father said the system had let his daughter down. According to news reports, some of the young woman's fellow workers were aware that she was being stalked. Read more: The Age

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the workers who lost their lives this week. The deaths of these young workers brings the workplace fatality toll to 63 for 2020, three more than at the same time last year. (Note, WorkSafe's official figure may be 61; the discrepancy may be whether the regulator classifies Monday's death, and the death of the food delivery worker the previous week as 'work-related'.)  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

As Victoria continues to record 'double zero' figures (no new infections and no deaths for 19 days straight now), there has been an outbreak in South Australia. There are now 34 active COVID-19 cases in the state - 20 of which are linked to a cluster. It is suspected that the community outbreak had its source in one of the quarantine hotels. There were five new cases diagnosed today, and the South Australian government has announced that from midnight tonight the state will begin a six-day lockdown to seek to control the growing COVID-19 outbreak. The lockdown will implement a number of restrictions, including limiting movement of residents. These include:

  • All schools will close   
  • Pubs and restaurants will close
  • Regional travel will not be allowed
  • Certain  factories will close 
  • Construction industry will close
  • Weddings and Funerals banned 
  • Masks must be worn outside

The outbreak illustrates how infectious the virus is and the necessity to maintain a high level of vigilance. According to the latest official figures, there are 27,760 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. 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.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continue to break records.  The cumulative number of infections is 55,932,624. One week ago it was 51,790,088this is an increase of over 4.1 million more infections in just seven days. There have now been 1,342,934 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world. It appears that while infections are growing at increasing rates, the percentage of deaths is decreasing. This may be because more is now known about how to treat the infection. 

In good news, there are two vaccines - one from Pfizer/BioNtech and another from Moderna - which have undergone hugely successful trials, with announcements that they appear to be 90 per cent and 95 per cent successful respectively. There are others under development and at different stages of being trialled. Vaccines will be 'fast tracked' for use - but when are they likely to be available? Pfizer believes it will be able to supply 50 million doses worldwide by the end of this year, and about 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. Read more Covid: Will there be more than one coronavirus vaccine? BBC News

For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

I’ve been told by a manager that casual workers are ineligible to nominate in HSR elections, is that true?

The manager does not know what s/he is talking about - any employee in the DWG is eligible to nominate and be elected as the HSR.  

Who is eligible to stand for election?

To be eligible for election, a person must be a member of the DWG and must not be disqualified from acting as an HSR. DWG members may nominate themselves or another member of the DWG to stand for election as an HSR.

And can casuals be members of DWGs?

Again, from the Act and the guide, when negotiating DWGs included in the factors which must be taken into account is: “the number and grouping of employees who perform similar types of work, such as doing the same tasks or working under the same or similar working arrangements (e.g. having the same shift arrangements; the same breaks; being part-time, casual or seasonal; working under the same contract or certified agreement; or having the same job grade).”

It is inconceivable in today's workforce that casuals would be ineligible. There are many workplaces where the majority of workers are casuals - in many the only permanent workers are in 'management'.  And anyone in a managerial position, while technically eligible to be a member of a DWG and therefore eligible to nominate as an HSR - should not be one. Again from the guide:

Can a manager be an HSR?

Strictly speaking, the OHS Act allows any employee of the employer to nominate to be elected as the HSR of a DWG. However, consideration must be given as to whether line management (i.e. managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc.) should or should not be an HSR. The HSR role is one of representation – not one of responsibility for meeting workplace health and safety duties.

If a DWG is defined in such a way that a manager/supervisor (who is an employee) is a member, they can be nominated and elected as an HSR.

For example in a larger workplace, people in managerial or supervisory roles are not the employer per se; they are still employees under the Act with the right to have their OHS interests represented.

However, in practice, managers/supervisors are designated people who usually have some level of control of the working environment.

A person who has a line management role who is also an HSR may be placed in an awkward, and possibly inappropriate, position. For example, they may be the person with whom an OHS concern is raised (as the employee representative) and, at the same time, be the person who, at least initially, has the responsibility (on behalf of the employer) to respond to that concern. WorkSafe would, in general, counsel against such an arrangement.

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

TONIGHT, November 18, 7:00pm -  OHS Live Show 

Join us on the We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook Page for a very special OHS Live Show, as we have three guests to discuss the relationship between HSRs and Injured Workers. If you've ever wanted to know about the Workcover system, returning to work and what the HSR's role can be after an injury has occurred, this is the episode for you! Those participating will have the opportunity to ask questions. So don't forget to tune in. 

Asbestos news  

A reminder of 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. Over 650 Australians died of mesothelioma last year. Experts warn the high number of cases could persist for years with hundreds more cases possible after latency of more than 30 years from work-related (builders, plumbers, gasfitters, mechanics and marine engineers) or other exposure. Firefighters may also be at risk after the devastating bushfires destroyed old buildings and sheds across Australia.

So we can never be complacent about asbestos - as reflected in this year's theme: ‘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:

  1. KNOW the health risks of asbestos exposure
  2. BE AWARE of where asbestos might be found before you start work (“it lurks in more places than you’d think”)
  3. 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.

Research into chemotherapy alternatives for mesothelioma

With more than 650 Australians diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma last year, Flinders University is leading new research to discover alternatives to chemotherapy and even prevent deaths by early detection in future. In 2021 the university will be testing the natural therapeutic benefits of curcumin, a key component of the spice turmeric, in a clinical trial as part of world-leading research.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Sonja Klebe, are studying the safety and feasibility of using a form of intrapleural liposomal curcumins to benefit patient survival and quality of life – with fewer toxic side-effects than chemotherapy. Read more: Mirage News

ACV/GARDS Newsletter

The November edition of the ACV/GARDS newsletter is now available to download [pdf] from their website. There is plenty of news to catch up on in the 20 page newsletter, including Asbestos Awareness Week events, an article on the demolition of the Hazelwood Power Station, profiles of Professor Tim Driscoll, Dr Tom John and Perdita Dickson, Senior Occupational Hygienist at WorkSafe. 

QLD: company fined for improper removal

A specialist demolition company and its two directors has been fined $16,000 for not properly demolishing a house which had asbestos-containing material (ACM). The company was found guilty of six charges under the state’s Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, of improper removal of ACM, and fined $8000 (plus$1100 costs), with no conviction. The two company directors, who carried out the demolition works, were each fined $4000.

The company, which held a removal licence, had been contracted to remove a Toowoomba house which had ACM that should have been appropriately removed prior to any demolition work – this did not occur. Instead, an excavator was used to demolish the dwelling and ACM was pushed into piles across the site. Limited effort was made to remove the asbestos or put in control measures against its inadvertent dispersal. An excavator should not have been used. Also, the company failed to:

  • put up appropriate signs,
  • implement an adequate asbestos removal plan, 
  • inform nearby property owners of the ACM removal work
  • properly contain and label the ACM prior to removing it from the site.

As a licensed asbestos removalist company, it was aware of the safe methods of handling and removal of asbestos; however, these methods were not followed.
Source: Safety Solutions

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

Migrant Workers' Conference: The Pandemic, The Recession and Social Safety Nets

Migrant workers, unionists, campaigners and specialists in this field are invited to attend our upcoming Migrant Workers Conference: The Pandemic, The Recession and Social Safety Nets. The Conference will take place over three evenings from Monday 23 November to Wednesday 25 November.

This year has been especially tough for migrant workers. From those on sponsorship or bridging visas to international students and working holiday makers - migrants faced this pandemic without any Federal government support.

The Migrant Workers Conference will explore the impacts of COVID-19 and the recession on migrant workers. Come to hear what changes migrant workers are asking Australia to make and add your voice. Click here to find out more and to RSVP.  A written conference guide and multilingual glossary will be also be provided prior to the event.

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