Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 27,912 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed. None of those recently diagnosed in the past weeks have been in Victoria, where there have not been any new cases identified for 33 days.  There are now also no active cases in the state. The total number of COVID deaths however, increased to 908, with a Victorian woman in her 70's dying earlier this week - she had been cleared but died of complications. While the restrictions have now been substantially reduced, masks must still be worn at work and in some other circumstances, and limits remain on the number of people who can gather indoors, including in workplaces. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continues to climb.  The cumulative number of infections is now 64,178,843. One week ago it was 60,076,389this is again an increase of over 4.1 million more infections in just seven days. There have been 1,485,762 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world.

While the news continues to be positive in terms of effective vaccines getting emergency approval over the next few weeks, in the U.S the situation looks like it will worsen. White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. is likely to see a “surge upon a surge” of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks given the number of people who traveled for Thanksgiving last week and shared meals with family and friends. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

We have a permanent part time floor worker who has been seconded for over one year to forklift duties. The forklift operators have their own DWG - but management has told him he is not a member of the forklift DWG, but remains with his original DWG. He wants to be DHSR as there are many OHS issues in that area, and the HSR is not active. Can you work within a work group but not be a member of their DWG?

This worker needs to be included in the Designated Work Group that he's been working in for a year - he has been there long enough for the situation not to be 'temporary' and the OHS issues he has identified are putting his health and safety at risk. How this happens will depend on the arrangements at the workplace. Even though DWGs are usually defined by physical location or type of work (as it is here - 'forklifts'), it is very important to then have a list of the actual workers within the DWG - every member of a DWG has the right to nominate as HSR/DHSR and vote in any election. At the moment, and for the past year, this worker has not had these rights. 

He should raise this with the employer - and if he doesn't get anywhere, then either one of the HSRs, or else his union organiser can follow up. Once he is a member of the forklift DWG, there are a few ways forward:

  • if there's a vacant DHSR position, he could nominate for it. However this depends on whether there was agreement when DWG was established that there would be positions in addition to the 'standard' HSR position. If not, then under the OHS Act, the establishment AND variation of Designated Work Groups must be negotiated and agreed between the employer and employees. This could take some time.
  • Even as a DHSR, his role would be limited, as a deputy can only take issues up, issue PINs, and so on, if the HSR is not physically available - he could not be active simply because the current HSR is not doing much.
  • If the current HSR is not active, then s/he should be approached and asked to resign. If the HSR is not willing to do this, then s/he ceases to hold that position if a 'majority of the members of the DWG resolve (in writing) that the person should no longer represent the DWG, but only if the person has held office for at least 12 months' [s55(2)(d) of the OHS Act].

I recommend that if you have any issues getting this addressed, then you (or the worker you're referring to) contact the union for assistance. 

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

Have you checked our EBA Clause library? 

The VTHC has developed a library of EBA clauses which specifically address occupational health and safety. These come from unions, developed for use when they negotiate their EBAs. Others come from work done some years ago by the ACTU OHS Unit. Check out the EBA Library resource here. 

Sign the petition for Gig workers 

In our last edition we reported on the deaths of five food delivery drivers in just weeks. The gig economy is literally killing workers. Without health and safety rights, insurance and a living wage riders are forced into working quickly rather than safely over long hours to pay their bills and buy groceries.

Platforms like UberEats are getting away with turning a blind eye to the health and safety of their workers as the Federal Government attempts to wash its hands of responsibility and fails to act. Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, must step up and act immediately to enforce minimum standards to keep gig workers safe.

This is a crisis of national proportions and it is not enough for Christian Porter to simply extend his “deepest sympathies” to the families of the workers who haven’t made it home safely. As the Federal Industrial Relations Minister he has the powers to regulate the gig economy and extend protections and support to these workers. Tell the Minister and the Federal Government that 'enough is enough' - sign the Megaphone petition now

Join young workers to fight for a better future

Earlier this year approximately 50 young workers built a Log of ClaimsThe Log of Claims is a list of demands that young workers will take action on in 2021 to campaign for a fairer, safer Victoria for all young workers. They are fighting for good, clean, secure jobs, roofs over their heads and an education and healthcare system that helps young workers get ahead. This year young workers won wage theft laws, and together they can win a whole bunch of other changes so that young workers aren't left recovering from the pandemic for decades to come. Next Wednesday 9 December at 5pm young workers will come together on Zoom to form action groups and plan how to win the demands in 2021. The event is being coordinated by the VTHC's Young Workers' Centre. RSVP and join other young workers on Wednesday 9 December!


Government must ratify ILO C190 Violence and Harassment Convention now

Eighteen months ago Australia supported the adoption of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Violence and Harassment (C 190), which recognises every worker’s fundamental right to be free from all forms of violence and harassment at work, including gender-based violence and harassment. Australian women unionists were active and influential in the debate.

Yet despite this support, the Morrison Government has not followed through on its commitment and has failed to ratify the Convention so it can become law in Australia. Everyone has the right to a workplace free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.

The Australian Government must recognise that worker safety has never been more important. Help the CFMEU and MUA send a message loud and clear that the government must now ratify the ILO Convention so it can become law in Australia by signing this petition. Also check out this short video by Dr Gerry Ayers, OHS Manager at the Victorian branch of the CFMEU, who explains why this issue is so important. 

As a comparison, Argentina is one step closer to becoming the third country in the world after Uruguay and Fiji to adopt ILO Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, after the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill for ratification. The bill was approved by a large majority on 11 November. 

Unions in Argentina have played an important role in promoting the bill's approval. In the session of the Chamber of Deputies, deputy Vanese Siley, spokeswoman for the federal group of women trade unionists of the CGT, underscored the role of the inter-union network (made up of more than 100 unions from the three national centers) in campaigning for the elimination of violence at the workplace. Read more: Argentina's parliament in favour of ratifying C190. Industriall media release

Asbestos news  

Canberra mesothelioma sufferer awarded $250k 

A Canberra man who contracted mesothelioma after playing in loose-fill asbestos as a toddler has been awarded more than $250,000 by the ACT Government to cover his medical treatment, despite the territory's position that the blame for his suffering is the Commonwealth's.

The 54 year old man was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma earlier this year and called on the ACT Government to establish a compensation fund to support his and future 'Mr Fluffy' mesothelioma cases. Chief Minister Andrew Barr committed to investigating a scheme for future victims, but confirmed an "act of grace" payment had been made to the man as a contribution to his medical costs. It is the first time any level of government has paid out any claim for sickness associated with the 'Mr Fluffy' loose-fill asbestos saga.

The man was a young child when he and his three brothers played with piles of loose-fill asbestos as if it was snow in the garage of their Canberra home. Fifty years later, the man was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is incurable. He was one of the first-known Mr Fluffy residents to contract the disease. Read more: ABC online

The asbestos toll

The following is an excerpt from a letter published in the Jimboomba Times (QLD) and sent by J. Jarratt, Asbestos Awareness. It brings home the terrible legacy of Australia's use of asbestos.

"In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit all Australians hard and tragically taken the lives of more than 900 Aussies who have left behind heartbroken loved ones.

But what many do not know is that in 2020, more than 4000 Australians will die from asbestos-related diseases caused from exposure to asbestos fibres either in the home or in the workplace.

For more than 100 years Australians have been dying from asbestos-related diseases and as with COVID-19, the most effective means of preventing more deaths is to prevent exposure to the cause.

We have listened to the warnings about COVID-19. Now it's time Australians listened to the warnings about asbestos.

Asbestos was used extensively in the manufacture of more than 3000 products, products that can be lurking in any home built or renovated before 1987 including brick, weatherboard, clad and fibro homes and even apartments."

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

International news

Global: Union call for rapid antigen testing for workers.  

The global union confederation ITUC is pressing for urgent and large-scale investment in rapid antigen testing for the virus that causes COVID-19, in order to bring the pandemic under control. These tests, also know as ‘strip’ tests, can be done by anyone at home, in workplaces or in other settings and produce a result in 15-30 minutes. Their key feature is that they give a positive reading when people are still contagious. ITUC says the commonly used Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests can give a positive result well after an individual is contagious, are expensive and logistically complicated. It is planned to use rapid tests on workers in Victoria's quarantine hotels, when the program restarts next week. On Monday it was announced that staff will be tested for coronavirus daily, and their households will also undergo regular testing.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “Adding these tests to the existing armoury of measures to tackle the pandemic would enable workplaces that have been shut down to reopen safely with a very high degree of confidence.” She added: “Masks, social distancing, sick pay for everyone who tests positive, social protection and job and business support measures are still essential and are vital to the effective roll out of rapid antigen or ‘strip’ tests but those tests can make a real contribution to stopping the virus and saving jobs. The world cannot continue to yo-yo between lockdowns and partial reopening. The social, economic and health costs are too high and are a price that does not need to be paid.”

A briefing prepared by the ITUC, which draws on specialist input and the work of epidemiologists, virologists and other experts, sets out the rationale for major investment in strip tests and large-scale rollout. “We need to add these simpler and cheaper but effective strip tests to enable economies to reopen for the long term, and help suppress the virus to the point where we can begin to trust safety in the workplace and in public spaces,” said ITUC’s Sharan Burrow. 
Read more:  ITUC news release, briefing paper and short video explainer. Source: Risks 975. Read more on rapid antigen testing: Rapid COVID-19 testing a potential game-changer in worker protection Institute for Work and Health Newsletter

UK: TUC warns food factories could be COVID 'super spreaders' this Christmas

The TUC this week warned that food processing factories could become “super spreaders” of COVID-19 in the run up to Christmas. Food processing has the third highest rate of outbreaks of any sector across Europe, after care homes and hospitals, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Control.

People working in food plants already face a higher chance of contracting COVID-19 due to the lack of airflow, lack of social distancing and low temperatures, says the UK's peak union body: With the number of temporary workers in food manufacturing set to increase by more than 40 per cent this Christmas, the risk of workplace infections will grow. Since March, several UK food factories have been forced to close during the pandemic after reporting hundreds of cases of coronavirus, among them suppliers to major supermarkets. 

The TUC warns that current workplace safety guidance for food production is “out-of-date”. New scientific studies have shown the significance of airborne transmission with COVID-19 aerosols remaining suspended in the air for hours. But the existing UK government guidance is still largely based on stopping spread of droplets which fall to the ground in seconds.  

The TUC says ministers must update the guidance to deal with issues including:  

  • Ventilation: the current guidance fails to offer advice on effective ventilation beyond opening windows. And it doesn’t state what additional measures should be implemented in instances where this is not possible to achieve.  
  • Face coverings: the government should issue detailed standards on the quality of face coverings. The World Health Organisation says there should be three protective layers.  
  • Workplace temperature: studies show that coronavirus thrives in the cooler temperatures found in meat packing factories. But there is no mention of workplace temperatures in the current official guidance.  
  • Social distancing: the current guidance states that, where two metre distancing is not possible, working side-by-side is preferable to face-to face. The TUC says this rule should be reviewed based on the most recent scientific findings.  

TUC polling published in September revealed that just two-fifths (38 per cent) of workers say they know their employers have carried out Covid-Secure risk assessments. And only four in ten (42 per cent) reported being given adequate PPE.
Read more: TUC media release


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