Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

The Victorian government has relaxed some of the restrictions, with now up to 75 per cent of workers being able to return to work. Employers need to remember that they have a duty to consult with HSRs - or with employees directly if there are no HSRs - to ensure that the return to work is done in a manner that does not workers' health or safety at risk. The return to work process will be difficult for some, after many months working from home, and it will be important to keep this in mind. Some of the other restrictions still in place are: 

  • Victorians are allowed to leave the house for any reason, and can now have up to 30 visitors to the home each day;
  • Masks are mandatory in certain circumstances (eg supermarkets, public transport, etc) and recommended when keeping a physical distance of 1.5 metres is not possible;
  • Up to 100 people are allowed at public gatherings. Registration is required for larger events. 

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

Australia has had a total, to date, of 28,986 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, although it appears that the vaccines are beginning to take effect, with the increases reducing. The cumulative number of infections was last Wednesday was 112,636,741 - the number today is 115,242,343, so still an increase of over 2.6 million new cases.  (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,557,778 COVID-related deaths around the world.

Last week we reported concerns that some countries will struggle to get adequate, if any, supplies of vaccines. Today stories are emerging about how some communities in the US, particularly African American and Hispanic, are missing out on COVID vaccines, despite being the hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.  (ABC AM program)

Remember our COVID-19 Live Show if you haven't taken a look yet. Go to the We Are Union - OHS Reps Facebook page, here to catch up or watch it again; and check out the COVID-19 Vaccines webpage.

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata, 

We are about to hold our HSR election and my manager just sent me an email saying – "I believe the regulations say the term of office for HSRs is a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 3 yrs. I would like to suggest a term of 12 months to ensure fairness for those that would like the opportunity to apply for this role."

I thought the period was 3 years only unless something else happens but I did not know they could only be elected for just one year?. Can you advise if this is correct?

The default term of office for HSRs is in fact three years. While it cannot be more than three years, it can be less, for example 12 months, or two years, or whatever. HOWEVER, anything different to the default term of office of three years must be negotiated and AGREED as part of the DWG set up [s44(1)(d)]. If the manager wants anything different then the employer (not the manager) must formally seek to ‘vary the DWG/s’ under s44(3). This triggers a negotiation, but the variation sought goes through only if agreed between the employer and the employees.

So I recommend that you respond along the lines of: ‘Under Section 44(1)(d) of the OHS Act, 3 years is the default – and this is what we currently have in place. If you think this needs to change, then our employer will need to put a request in writing to vary the DWG/s. We then need to negotiate on varying the term of office and agree – and if we do not agree, then it’s status quo.’   The manager probably hasn’t also thought about the potential cost to the organisation – if there are NEW HSRs elected each 12 months, then each new HSR is entitled to attend a 5 day initial training course on paid time, and the organisation must also pay for the course.

A specific reference to '12 months' only comes up in s55 of the Act, Term of office, and refers to the time an HSR must have been in the position before a majority of the DWG members can resolve, in writing, that the person should no longer represent them. So I think the manager has actually confused two sections. There is nothing about term of office in the Regulations. 

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

March 8: International Women's Day 

Monday March 8 is both International Women's Day (IWD) and also Labour Day in Victoria. This is fitting, as recent data has shown the women workers have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, and it's a good time to participate in events which seek to address these issues.

It must be remembered that IWD originated in the struggle of working women. IWD has been observed since the early 1900's - a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. There was great unrest and critical debate amongst women. Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. 

The first National Woman's Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on February 28. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913. 

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs - and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament - greeted Zetkin's suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women's Day was the result.

Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen, International Women's Day was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on March 25, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women's Day events. 1911 also saw women's Bread and Roses campaign.

International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. Read more on the history of IWD here.

Women have struggled to achieve equity in work and other areas of their lives ever since. 

Events you can attend in Melbourne:

  • International Women's Day Event at Trades Hall for union women, beginning at midday, and then moving on to the rally. This will be an opportunity to meet with like-minded union women, learn a little union history and take part in a musical production like no other.  When: 12 pm, Monday March 8, at the Victorian Trades Hall, corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton South. 
  • IWD Rally and March - organised by a voluntary IWD Collective. When: 2pm, Monday March 8, Steps of Parliament House.  Check out the FB Event page  and the IWD page proper with information on the demands of the day and lots of interesting articles.   

Marshaling Support Wanted: 

The IWD Collective has put out a call for marshals for the March and Rally. There is training being run at midday on Monday March 8 at the Carlton Gardens (corner Victoria and Rathdowne Streets, Carlton. If you're unable to attend the training (because for example you're at the Women's event at the Hall), then the organisers welcome you joining any of the marhaling teams once you arrive at the Rally. Register for training here.

Asbestos news

NSW: Sydney beach closed due to asbestos

A popular beach in Sydney’s southwest, Little Bay Beach, will be closed for two weeks as authorities seek to establish why asbestos fragments keep getting washed up. Randwick City Council has closed the beach to the public after hundreds of pieces of material containing asbestos, mainly small fragments from cement sheeting, have been collected from the beach since August last year. A local resident first alerted council on August 2 and within a week more than 100 visible fragments were found. All of them were removed and tested. While the fragments are regularly removed by specialists, they continue to wash ashore, leaving experts searching for the source.

In a very odd decisions, Council said the beach would be closed for two weeks in late April and early May while the investigation is carried out. But it will be open on weekends during that period. Source: The Courier Mail

ACT: Asbestos removal work at the Australian War Memorial

A major project to remove asbestos and lead paint from the Australian War Memorial is about to begin and parts of the building will be covered with scaffolding. The project will also restore some of its damaged stone facade.

A construction company will undertake the removal of asbestos found in the gaps between the sandstone blocks; the removal of lead paint from the window frames; and the repair of damaged blocks on the main building's north-facing wall. The asbestos is non-friable and therefore does not pose a risk to the general public. Read more: The Canberra Times 

November: National Asbestos Awareness Week

This year, National Asbestos Awareness Week will be held the week of 22 - 28 November. 

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) says that the 2020 week saw excellent participation from organisations all over Australia, spreading the message that asbestos can be present in more places than you’d think. There was a range of different activities that focused on knowing the health risk of asbestos, taking precautions before working with potentially asbestos-containing materials, and seeking professional help.

The Agency will be developing this year’s campaign for National Asbestos Awareness Week and will be sharing the theme and related key messages in the coming months. As with previous years, it will work closely with stakeholders to develop a consistent and tailored theme and related messaging for 2021.

This year, ASEA will continue to provide updates for National Asbestos Awareness Week through the National Asbestos Awareness Week mailing list. To ensure you receive the latest information, updates and news, subscribe to the mailing list.  

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

International Union news

Ireland: code to address 'always on call' workplace culture

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for workers to have greater rights to ‘disconnect’ outside of working hours. The Irish Government has asked its Workplace Relations Commission to develop a code of practice to promote the practice.

In the National Strategy on Remote Working, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Employment, Leo Varadkar, asked the WRC draft a code of practice on the ‘right to disconnect’ which ‘will set out guidance for employees and employers with regard to best practice and approaches to employee disengagement outside normal working hours’.

The strategy says that COVID-19 has ‘blurred the boundaries between people’s professional and private lives’ and ‘advancements in technology have allowed employees to be constantly accessible’, creating "pressure for employees to always be on call’.

According to Eurofound, the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, the 'right to disconnect' is a worker’s entitlement to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or messages, outside of working hours.

In its submission to the WRC, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' says it wants to "preserve workers' hard-won rights to leisure time, improve working conditions and safeguard workers' health and safety; and reflect the new realities in the way we work". The ICTU recommends that "employers be required to collaborate with employees and their representatives to develop a set of rules that suits the business and the workforce . . . with a clear obligation on the employer for the right to disconnect to be effectively safeguarded" rather than the WRC creating a "one-size-fits-all protocol".
Source: Workplace Express 


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