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 73,830,321 (note: the numbers are updated continually). One week ago it was 68,479,299this is an increase of almost 5.3 million more infections in just seven days! There have been 1,641,440 COVID-related deaths around the world.

The numbers in the United States are mind-boggling: there have been 17,143,779 infections and 311,068 deaths to date. Just in the past day there were 190,082 new infections and 2,716 deaths. While the rollout of the Pfizer vaccines began in the country this week, it is expected that numbers will continue to grow in coming weeks, fuelled by holiday travel, family gatherings and lax adherence to mask-wearing and other precautions. Another vaccine, developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, is likely to be approved soon.  Read more: ABC news online For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

I'm wondering whether a casual labour hire worker can be a candidate in an HSR election with permanent full time staff?

If the worker is actually employed by another employer (eg the Labour hire company) then no, that worker cannot stand for election nor vote in an HSR election when one is held in the DWG. That person is also not automatically a member of the DWG. However, when a DWG is negotiated, one of the things that can and should be addressed under s44(1)(e) is:

"whether the health and safety representative or representatives for the designated work group or groups are authorised also to represent independent contractors, or a class of independent contractors, engaged by the employer, and any employees of such independent contractors, who work at a workplace at which members of the designated work group or groups work. "

I would recommend that all workers be included in the DWG as the issues faced would be the same whether a worker is a direct employee or a labour hire worker. In that way, the elected HSR is able to represent everyone. 

Of course the employer still has duties to any labour hire workers, as per s21(3). See: Duties of employers

Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. Note however, that the service will not be attended from December 16 to January 18 while the staff of the OHS Unit is on leave

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

Exploitation of migrant workers increased during the pandemic 

A large Unions NSW audit has found that the underpayment of migrant workers significantly worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 88 per cent of a sample of foreign language job advertisements in the state offering below award wages.

Unions NSW has used the audit of 3000 online foreign language job postings to call for government funding of unions and peak IR bodies to lead wage theft investigations, claiming the pandemic has exposed the "ineffectiveness" of the FWO's strategy. It is asking for tougher penalties and policing of wage theft issues. It is also seeking welfare support for temporary migrants affected by COVID-19, the abolition of the 40 work hours per fortnight visa condition for international students and a legal requirement to advertise the minimum rate of pay in all job advertisements.

The report Wage Theft: The shadow market [pdf] shows a significant increase since the end of last year. According to the report, the construction industry had the highest proportion of ads for underpaying jobs, at 97.3 per cent, followed by cleaning at 91.8 per cent, hair and beauty at 87.9 per cent, fast food at 87.5 per cent, retail at 87.1 per cent, hospitality at 87 per cent, clerical at 84.3 per cent and transport at 66.7 per cent.  This was much worse than the 70 per cent and 78 per cent in 2017 and 2018 respectively revealed in previous reports.

Advertisements written in Vietnamese were the most likely to pay illegal wages (90.7 per cent), while ads in Korean (88.3 per cent), Chinese (87.9 per cent) and Nepalese (86.3 per cent) also scored highly.

“There are more than one million temporary migrants in Australia who can’t fully enforce their workplace rights due to their visa status,” said Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW. “So many migrants were already exploited, and without JobKeeper or JobSeeker it got much worse during the crisis. Without income support, tens of thousands of migrants were made more vulnerable. Clearly, some unscrupulous bosses seized on the opportunity of the COVID pandemic to rip off vulnerable migrants even further."

Labor’s shadow industrial relations minister, Tony Burke, savaged the issues exposed in the report. On too many occasions, we have third world working conditions in a first world country,” Mr Burke said on Monday.
Read more: Unions NSW media releaseThe New Daily

Asbestos news  

Victoria: Funding for private schools  

The Andrews Labor Government has announced funding for Catholic and independent schools for infrastructure, through a new round of its $402 million contribution to fund upgrades for the non-government school sector.

Minister for Education James Merlino has opened applications for round three of the Non-Government Schools Capital Fund, which supports projects such as building new schools and increasing capacity or upgrading facilities at existing schools. It also provides funding for the removal of asbestos and cladding in these schools. The opening of round three has been brought forward to provide funding sooner for capital projects that ensure the creation of more local jobs for Victorians in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Applications for round three close on Monday 15 February 2021. 
Source: Victorian government media release  

NSW: Huge fines in asbestos documents 

A NSW company has been ordered to pay about $500,000 and a "principal/owner" convicted over false and misleading documentation involving disposal of more than 1,000 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated soil. The charge is not one of 'dumping', as the asbestos is still missing. 

Paul Mouawad (now Boulos Isaac) and also described as an "employee" of Aussie Earthmovers, the sole director of which is his mother – was at the time of the decision to be assessed for community service in lieu of imprisonment and has agreed to pay $60,000 costs. His sentencing is due early next year.

He has been convicted after pleading guilty of two offences of knowingly supplying fake tipping dockets and a disposal report that claimed the asbestos-contaminated waste had been lawfully disposed of, following a prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). There was evidence Mouawad contracted to separate transporter S A Civil to move the waste, then made several demands for payment, manipulated a document, bought a thermal printer and created false records of the disposal. The company arranged for the removal of 134 truckloads of the asbestos-contaminated waste in June and July 2016. The EPA found one truckload was lawfully disposed of at the Suez Kemps Creek Landfill - but the location of the remaining asbestos-contaminated waste is unknown.

The Land and Environment Court found that Aussie Earthmovers Pty Ltd knowingly supplied false and misleading information about the disposal of about 1,400 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated soil from a building site in Darlington in central Sydney. The company was fined Aussie a total of $450,000 for the two offences and ordered the company to pay the EPA’s legal costs. Read more: Hefty fines in Aussie Earthmovers asbestos documents case, ATN (Australian Transport News)

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

Holiday Cheer after a difficult year

And for something completely different: if you're looking for something really fun do do for Christmas with family and or friends - you can't go past this: A Swingin' Bella Christmas

This event, which used to be held every year at Trades Hall, has gone online. It can be streamed (valid for 48 hours) or bought outright. So have a party, dress up and have a great night! (This is blatant promotion of a very sound and fun event: our editor's husband is one of the fabulous musicians). 
Cost: $9.95 to rent. $29.95 to own.

International news

Global: Pressure grows to let seafarers off ships

Pressure is mounting on governments to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’ to avoid the prospect of forced labour and human rights abuses in major supply chains this holiday season, representatives of the global transport unions’ federation ITF have said. An estimated 400,000 seafarers have been trapped on ships for months, as ports have refused to allow them to disembark during the COVID crisis. Now the United Nations General Assembly and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have each passed landmark resolutions calling for urgent action by national governments on the crew change crisis.

ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton said: “We now have the full authority of the United Nations General Assembly saying that if countries want to participate in the global economy, then they must recognise this global workforce as ‘key workers’ with practical effect. Key worker status means letting seafarers get off in their ports for medical attention. It means letting them get to an airport to fly home and return to their families when their contract on a ship is completed. It means letting replacement crews through a country’s border to join those waiting ships.”

The ITF, which represents more than a million seafarers through its affiliated seafaring unions, has been working behind the scenes with governments and UN agencies to secure the resolutions. “The global movement to recognise that seafarers need travel, transit and border exemptions and practical quarantine rules, is gaining momentum. Governments are starting to realise that they need to act now if they want to avoid being blamed for this pressing humanitarian – and potentially economic – crisis. The heat is on,” said Cotton. 
Read more: ITF news releaseILO news release. Source: Risks 977

The crisis in care: New report underlines urgent need for responsible investor action in nursing homes

UNI Global Union, which represents two million care workers worldwide, is calling on investors in nursing homes to take urgent action to address the deepening crisis in long-term care.

new report released by UNI highlights the legal, human rights and operational risks of investments in nursing homes caused by a combination of poor health and safety, understaffing, low wages, temporary contracts and over-financialization. The entrenched problems in the sector have increased the vulnerability of nursing homes to the coronavirus, with estimates from 21 countries showing that on average 46 per cent of COVID-19 deaths were care home residents as of mid-October.

“Residents and workers in nursing homes deserve better than the dangerous and deeply unsustainable model of long-term care. Investors have a pivotal role to play in addressing the crisis in the sector and setting standards higher,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “COVID-19 has exposed the fundamental flaws in a system of low pay, poor contracts and lack of worker voice. Freedom of association and collective bargaining are key to improving working conditions, health and safety and the quality of care in nursing homes.”

The report shows that trade unions are a key differentiator in helping to reduce coronavirus infection rates through unions’ roles in demanding high staff to patient ratios, paid sick leave and PPE and higher wages and benefits, which reduces staff turnover. A study of 355 nursing homes in New York State found the presence of a health care worker union was associated with a 30% lower mortality rate from COVID-19 among nursing home residents.

However, without investor impetus across the sector, individual nursing homes will be unable to break the downward cycle of pressures, says the report.

UNI is calling on investors to classify nursing homes as a high-risk industry and use their stewardship activities and investment decision-making to drive up standards in the sector. UNI plans to work together with investors to develop best practices for action in the coming year.

“Investors must now carry out proper due diligence into their investments in nursing homes, and not forget they bear responsibility for the critical care of vulnerable, elderly people at the end of their lives,” stressed Hoffman. “Vaccination programmes may eventually solve the contagion and deaths related to COVID but they are not the long term answer to the risks presented by the conditions in nursing homes. Now that these risks have been exposed, it is irresponsible to wait until the next pandemic to fix the problems.”  Read more: UNI news release

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