Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 27,987 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 38 days.  As a result, the Andrews government this week further reduced restrictions, including numbers of workers allowed in workplaces, and the wearing of masks. There have also been changes which affect the public. We have updated the information on the website: Coronavirus the Victorian situation and Masks and face coverings.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, with some countries recording huge increases.  The cumulative number of infections is now 68,479,299. One week ago it was 64,178,843this is an increase of over 4.3 million more infections in just seven days. There have been 1,560,989 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world.

The United Kingdom has begun the largest vaccination program in the country's history with four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine expected to be administered by the end of the month. The shipment arrived in the country just two days before the roll out began. Meanwhile, Canada, Brazil, Germany, United States and Indonesia prepare to follow UK in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. Because Australia is in such a good situation, having effectively controlled community infection, it is likely the government will wait to see how successful the vaccination programs in other countries are and take into account any issues which may arise  Read more: ABC news online For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

Can the director of a company elect themselves to be the OHS rep?

Ha ha! This must be one of the funniest emails I've received for a long time - if it weren't so serious!
No, the director cannot 'elect himself' as the OHS rep or the HSR - which stands for 'health and safety representative'.  The main role of the elected health and safety representative is to represent the workers in the Designated Work Group (DWG) on any occupational health and safety issues or concerns, and seek to have these resolved by taking them up with the employer. The HSR must be:
  1. an employee of the employer; and
  2. elected by the members of the Designated Work Group - who must also be employees; and
  3. cannot be the employer's ohs representative. 

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

VTHC Events TONIGHT, Wednesday December 9

1 - OHS Live Show - Vulnerable workers

Tonight we have two guests, to discuss Vulnerable Workers, and the unique OHS challenges facing them.

Vulnerable workers are in workplaces everywhere, in every industry. This will be a great episode for HSRs looking to act more on the needs of young workers, migrant workers, women or workers from any other vulnerable sector of society that some employers love to take advantage of.
Right here on the We are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page - 7pm tonight - tell your mates.

2 - 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. Tonight  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 tonight!

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

Demand for national industrial manslaughter laws grows

Families of workers killed on the job and unions have gathered in Canberra to call for the introduction of industrial manslaughter into model workplace health and safety laws. They will be pushing for the implementation of recommendations from the Senate Inquiry into industrial deaths that were handed down in October 2018 and Boland Review of Australia’s work health and safety laws in all states and territories. Industrial manslaughter laws are currently in place in Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory, and Western Australia. 

In 2019, 183 Australian workers were fatally injured while working – an increase of 37 avoidable deaths since 2018 and the first increase since 2007.

The Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) said the law provides justice for the families who have lost loved ones and acts as a deterrent for employers who might otherwise cut corners on work health and safety. ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said everyone should feel safe at work. “Everyone has a right to go home to their families at the end of every day,” Mr. O'Brien said. “Employers that cut corners that kill workers should face serious consequences. Sadly, this is not the case. Every year hundreds die in workplaces and their families deserve justice." Read more: ACTU Media Release

Asbestos news  

Portugal: Asbestos in schools 

A statement by a Ministry of the Portuguese Government has announced the extension of the deadline for submissions to be made for financial support for the removal of asbestos from the country’s schools. Applications made, to date, will incur the expenditure of more than €75 million (A$119.3 million) for the asbestos remediation of 460 schools (approximately 74 per cent of all the schools) in 130 cities. The financing of the work is guaranteed by European funds for regional programs. The new deadline for submissions is December 30, 2030. Source: IBAS

Addressing Italy’s asbestos legacy

A feature length article examines options for decontaminating the Italian infrastructure and environment within a broader discussion of the country’s historic mining and usage of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. During much of the 20th century, Italy was Europe’s second largest asbestos supplier and consumer after the Soviet Union. On average 6,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases and toxic exposures continue even though asbestos was banned in 1992. The author of the article, Ezio Bonanni, asserts that asbestos remediation tax credits are the only feasible solution to the country’s asbestos problem.
Read more: Credito d’imposta, unica via per una reale bonifica dell’amianto  [Tax credit, the only way for a real asbestos remediation]. Source: IBAS

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

International news

UK: Food factories could be Covid xmas ‘super spreaders’  

UK’s food processing factories could become “super spreaders” of COVID-19 in the run up to Christmas, the TUC has warned. The union body says 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. With the number of temporary workers in food manufacturing set to increase by more than 40 per cent this Christmas, the TUC says 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 government guidance is still largely based on stopping spread of droplets which fall to the ground in seconds. The TUC wants stricter controls on ventilation, face coverings, workplace temperatures and physical distancing. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “Ministers urgently need to update the guidance for food production. They must require employers to publish their risk assessments. And they must resource the HSE properly, so it can get into food factories and crack down on unsafe working.” The TUC has said too little official safety enforcement action is taking place, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issuing just 31 enforcement notices for COVID-19 safety breaches since April. Read more: TUC news release Source: Risks 976 

UK: Intrusive monitoring on the rise since coronavirus 

The TUC has launched a new taskforce to look at the “creeping role” of artificial intelligence (AI) in managing people at work. The taskforce launch comes as a new TUC report, ‘Technology managing people: the worker experience’, reveals that many workers have concerns over the use of AI and technology in the workplace.

A poll of over 2,000 workers found 1 in 7 (15 per cent) say that monitoring and surveillance at work has increased since COVID-19; 6 in 10 (60 per cent) say that unless carefully regulated, using technology to make decisions about people at work could increase unfair treatment in the workplace; and fewer than 1 in 3 (31 per cent) say they are consulted when any new forms of technology are introduced. More than half of workers (56 per cent) say introducing new technologies to monitor the workplace damages trust between workers and employers. 

The TUC says AI-powered technologies are currently being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles. And the report highlights how AI is being utilised by employers to analyse team dynamics and personality types when making restructuring decisions. Left unchecked, the union body warns that AI could lead to greater work intensification, isolation and questions around fairness. The report notes the TUC’s survey found “only a quarter had… experience of a health and safety employee representative being consulted before new technology was introduced,” and points to increased injuries, stress and strains linked to work pressures. It warns that global corporations, like Amazon and Uber, are driving advances in the use of AI to monitor and set more demanding targets for workers.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Big companies are investing in intrusive AI to keep tabs on their workers, set more demanding targets – and to automate decisions about who to let go. And it’s leading to increased loneliness and monotony. Workers must be properly consulted on the use of AI, and be protected from punitive ways of working. Nobody should have their livelihood taken away by an algorithm.” She added: “As we emerge from this crisis, tech must be used to make working lives better – not to rob people of their dignity.”
Read more: 
TUC news releaseblog and report, Technology managing people: the worker experience, 30 November 2020. Source: Risks 976

Global Campaign: Make Amazon pay

According to global union body IndustriALL, the pandemic has exposed how Amazon places profits ahead of workers, society, and our planet. It says Amazon takes too much and gives back too little; it is time to Make Amazon Pay. On Black Friday, 27 November, the biggest retail sales day in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world, workers, unions, global unions and activists took action. 

As another step of the global campaign on the textile, garment, shoe and leather sector, IndustriALL joined the global action against Amazon together with UNI Global Union, ITUC, Oxfam, Tax Justice Network and others to call Amazon to account. Read more: IndustriALL 


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