Union News

Another two fatalities in Victoria in the past week 

A 47-yr old truck driver from Parafield Gardens (SA), was killed near the SA-Victorian border at about 2.20 am last Thursday morning. That truck was part of a queue of vehicles several kilometres long waiting to get into South Australia after new travel restrictions were announced by the SA government on Greater Melbourne residents.  

The collision involved three B-doubles, and police believe the man's truck crashed into the back of another stationary truck, which then collided with a third truck in front. The first vehicle burst into flames, killing the driver, and fire engulfed the other two vehicles, about five kilometres east of the South Australian border. The driver and a passenger in the middle truck were injured and taken to Bordertown Memorial Hospital.

In the second fatality, a man was killed in an explosion at a property north-west of Melbourne. Emergency services were called to a farm in Troups Road South in Fieldstone, after reports of an explosion shortly after 12.40 pm on Monday.  A police spokesperson said the man has been working at the farm when the explosion occurred. Aerial footage of the scene showed police, paramedics and firefighters at the rural property which houses shipping containers, forklifts and a number of large sheds. WorkSafe has since said that a diesel fuel tank exploded at the property, which was a part time engine repair business. 

The VTHC extends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the two men killed. These deaths brings Victoria's fatalities for the year to four.  

Victorian Parliament passes Provisional Payments Bill

In great news for a group of injured workers, the Legislative Council of Victoria's Parliament yesterday passed the Provisional Payments Bill - even members of the Opposition voted in favour.

This Bill will allow workers who have lodged a mental injury workers compensation claim to get payments for reasonable medical and like expenses while their claim is being assessed. This will make a huge difference to them, as it means earlier treatment for their mental injury, better long term health outcomes for the worker and a better prospect of returning to work. Fiona Patten, leader of the Reason Party, referred to a worker's story sent by the VTHC in her contribution and acknowledged the Police Association, as did Jeff Bourman (of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party) who spoke briefly. Andy Meddick (Animal Justice Party), and Harriet Shing (Labour) also acknowledged the hard work of the union movement in championing this change.  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Since our last edition of SafetyNet the Victorian government implemented a snap 5-day Stage 4 lockdown from 11.59pm last Friday night to 11.59 tonight, Wednesday February 17, in efforts to prevent a "third wave" as a result of the cases linked to the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport. Welcome news this morning is that the "short, sharp circuit-breaker" coronavirus lockdown will end on schedule tonight. However, mask rules and gathering limits will remain in place. 

  • Schools will re-open, workplaces will return to 50 per cent capacity and people will be allowed to leave the house for any reason;
  • Masks will remain mandatory indoors when keeping a physical distance of 1.5 metres is not possible;
  • Victorians will only be allowed five visitors to the home (as opposed to the previous 15-person limit);
  • Up to 20 people will be allowed at public gatherings.

We have updated the information on the website: Coronavirus the Victorian situation and Masks and face coverings.

Australia has had a total, to date, of 28,905 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed. Most of the new cases over the past few months have been diagnosed in returning travellers in hotel quarantine.  However, as noted above, a number of Victorian hotel quarantine workers contracted the virus at the Holiday Inn and then infected some of their contacts. 

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, with some countries continuing to record huge increases.  The cumulative number of infections was last Wednesday was 107,376,344 - the number today is 110,015,844 (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,482,091 COVID-related deaths around the world. 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

We believe that COVID-19 vaccines are going to be rolled out in the near future - and that some workers/workplaces will be designated 'priority' and will be receiving them first. What can you tell us about this?

You are right - there is a lot happening in this 'space' at the moment. Firstly, it's important to know that in Australia all vaccines will be free of charge. Discussions between the State and Federal Health departments have taken place to identify priority groups who will be first in line to get vaccinated. These considerations include occupation.

At this stage at least, neither the state nor federal governments are making it mandatory for anyone to be vaccinated. It is possible individual employers may introduce a policy stating that vaccine is mandatory. Such a decision must follow consultation with the workforce and the HSR and a thorough assessment of the risks. A requirement to vaccinate may be disproportionate in many workplaces. If there are concerns about this, we encourage you to contact your Union.

The first category, 1A - those facing the highest risk of infection - is likely to include the following:

  • Hotel quarantine workers
  • Airport workers
  • Front line health workers
  • Workers involved in the vaccination program
  • Private aged care workers and residents

If there are contractors on these sites, they too need to invited to receive the vaccination. 

Workers and others who will be in the next categories, 1B and 2A, are still being finalised. However, 1B is likely to include:

  • Emergency service workers
  • Correctional services (workers and inmates)
  • Workers in the meat and poultry industries

Employers in industries in Category 1A have already received notification and told they will be asked to identify and nominate workers who will then be sent an invitation to register for the vaccination. Workers then need to contact the service delivering the vaccine to make an appointment.

The Victorian government has some information on the vaccine program on the DHHS website, here. This website is likely to be updated as more information is known. The information on Australia's vaccination strategy, including information on the approval process, the rollout strategy as it stands currently, and much more can be found in the document: Australia's CoVID-19 Vaccination and Treatment Strategy [pdf]

Advice for HSRs: If you work in one of these industries, or in one that is potentially in 1B, then go to your employer now and remind them that they need to consult with you and the other HSRs when putting together the list of workers to be included in the list. 

Note: The team is currently planning a Live Show on the COVID-19 vaccines, which will cover the planned roll-out, the different vaccines, how this will be organised and more. We will have two very special expert guests. The date has not yet been finalised, but keep your eyes on the Facebook page and also SafetyNet, as it will be in the next couple of weeks. 

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

Asbestos news  

NSW: Government steps in over redevelopment of former asbestos James Hardie site 

Plans to redevelop the heavily contaminated former James Hardie asbestos factory site near Parramatta in New South Wales, Australia hit a snag when the Department of Planning refused a request for a change to planning rules and called for the development of a “place strategy” to address the remediation of the 6.7-hectare site. It is likely that the compilation of such a strategy would take at least 18 months. Developers had hoped to build 3,200 dwellings on the property. Local politicians and members of opposition parties criticized the Government’s intervention saying additional accommodation and infrastructure were desperately needed in the Parramatta area. Read more: Sydney developer’s plans for old James Hardie site suffer setback. Sydney Morning Herald

UK: HSE Asbestos prosecution

Last week, a Manchester Magistrates’ Court fined a construction company and a property management company for failing to manage asbestos safely during a refurbishment of a former office block in Stockport in August 2018, despite the existence of a May 2018 asbestos survey which had identified the presence of asbestos- containing materials. This case was the result of a prosecution by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Commenting on the verdict, HSE Inspector Phil Redman said: “Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”  The company was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,428. 
Read more: Construction firms fined due to unsafe removal of asbestos Source: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

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

Campaign for gig workers continues

Last year, the Transport Workers Union and Trades Hall launched a campaign for gig workers’ rights. The campaign calls for gig workers to be legally recognised as employees rather than independent contractors and for companies like Uber to be held accountable for meeting the same workplace obligations as every other employer. Migrant workers are heavily represented in the gig economy as the work is often more accessible for those who face language or visa barriers from employers. The deaths of five migrant worker delivery riders within two months at the end of 2020 highlighted the urgency of the campaign.  

Also last year, Trades Hall ran consultation sessions with gig workers and made a submission to the Victorian Government for legislative changes to enforce stronger rights for workers in the gig industry. Facing increased scrutiny, Uber Eats has overhauled its business model in Australia. But in lieu of introducing better protections for their workers, the company has made superficial changes such as allowing delivery riders to transfer their job to other riders to double down on the claim their riders are independent contractors. The changes will come into effect in March. Hungry Panda has similarly attempted to avoid employer obligations by directing their riders to work for other companies in order to claim their riders aren’t their employees, despite cutting pay and kicking a delivery driver off its platform for protesting the pay cut. These moves are shameful attempts by gig companies to evade meeting workers’ rights and both the union and Trades Hall will continue to fight until every gig worker is treated fairly. If you’re a gig rider, you can join the TWU here.

International Union news

Union Launches UK Firefighter Cancer And Disease Registry

UK firefighters’ union FBU has launched a new nationwide database to assess the potential link between exposure to fire toxicants and the increased occurrence of cancers and other diseases among firefighters.

The union, which has developed the registry with researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), is calling on every current and former UK firefighter suffering from a serious or chronic illness to add their name to the registry, a move it says will help save firefighters’ lives in the future.

The UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry (FCDR) will collect information on firefighters’ work routines, exposure to fire effluents, lifestyle and health. The FBU says this will “enable scientists to identify and recognise most common cancers and diseases related to firefighters’ work, and, in the future, offer preventive health screening, education and support that is specifically designed to protect firefighter’s health.” The register covers cancers, nervous, circulatory and respiratory diseases, liver and kidney disorders and ‘other’ ailments potentially related to work. Read more: Work Cancer Hazards blog 


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