Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 29,137 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, although the rate of increase seems to be slowing, probably due to the rollout of the vaccines in several countries. The cumulative number of infections last Wednesday was 118,146,046  - the number today is 121,214,690. This is over 3 million more cases - last week it was over 5.5 million (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,618,564 COVID-related deaths around the world.

Vaccines: The vaccine roll-out is progressing steadily. As of today, there had been over 35,000 Victorians who have received their first vaccine.

A number of European countries have recently suspended the rollout of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine due to concerns that a small number of people vaccinated have suffered from blood clots. However, there is no evidence that the blood clots are related to the vaccine - in fact, the number of clots reported is lower than the number that would be expected in people not having received the vaccination. Both the Australian and the Victorian governments are taking advice from the TGA and Chief Medical Officers, and continuing the rollout in Australia. Both governments have produced up-to-date information on the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. These have been added to our webpage on COVID-19 Vaccines.

For more information, go to these pages on the website: Coronavirus disease and Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

Two job vacancies at the VTHC Training Unit

Are you an OHS Trainer? Are you committed to HSRs and unions? If the answers to these questions are yes, then you might be interested in working in the VTHC Training Unit. The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) is looking for people who want to make a difference for working people.

The VTHC is seeking to employ two Safety and Rights Trainers. The positions are based within the OHS training team which is dedicated to advancing the rights of working people across Victoria. The OHS training team educates and organises working people about their rights and safety at work, supports unions to advance working people’s rights and campaigns for social change through building the capacity of unions and activists.

If this interests you, then go to Ethical Jobs to find out more about the duties, selection criteria, pay and conditions.
But hurry: Applications close at 5.00pm, 26 March, 2021  

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

My employer has policy in place that certain items of PPE must be worn in the workplace. Who is responsible for supplying the PPE items such as work pants and shirts?

It would be expected that any compulsory PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and clothing is supplied by the employer – if the PPE is part of what is needed to reduce the risk to health or safety to employees, then this is the employer’s duty of care.

A few things though:

  1. If there are hazards creating a risk to employees at the workplace, then under the OHS Act, the employer has a duty to implement controls which seek to eliminate the risks at source. PPE should only be used when a risk remains despite the controls implemented
  2. Your employer has a duty to consult with you as the HSR on any measures they take/intend to take to control the hazards and risks at the workplace - and so if use of PPE is a control measure, then you should have been consulted. (see: Duty to consult) If you were not part of the process, then you can raise this as an issue under s73 of the Act - see: Resolution of issues.
  3. The Victorian OHS Act and regulations are silent on who pays for necessary PPE – unlike in some jurisdictions. This is often something which is nutted out and agreed upon by unions with the employer, on behalf of their members. I strongly recommend that you contact your union to have this issue followed up. 
  4. There is a range issues which must be considered when choosing PPE – see this page on the site for more information.
  5. In some ways this is an ‘industrial’ issue – generally employers can expect/demand workers to wear appropriate clothing, however if they insist on particular and specific gear, then they should supply it
  6. Finally, if workers do need to provide their own, then the cost is a tax deduction – but this is the least preferable outcome, and it would be far preferable for this to be the employer's responsibility.

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

Asbestos news

NSW: Prosecution over fake asbestos disposal information

A contractor who was paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars to take asbestos contaminated soil to a lawful landfill has been handed a 12-month term of imprisonment, to be served in the community, for faking waste disposal dockets. 

Paul Mouawad was sentenced in the Land and Environment Court on 26 February 2021 following prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) over the disposal of 1,400 tonnes of waste containing asbestos. An investigation by the EPA found 134 truckloads of asbestos-contaminated soil were collected from a building site in Darlington central Sydney in June and July 2016, but only one truckload was lawfully disposed of at the Elizabeth Drive Landfill at Kemps Creek. Read more: NSW EPA media release

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

Global: Deliveroo called out for pandemic profiteering

Deliveroo’s predatory business model means workers shoulder significant risks, including low pay rates, dangerous working conditions and unfair deactivations, its riders have said. Ahead of a major public share issue (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange, a global network of Deliveroo riders is warning potential investors of growing legal, regulatory, and reputational risks, urging them not to back the company until it improves rider safety, conditions and pay. A letter to Deliveroo CEO Will Shu calls on the company to stop treating riders like second class citizens.

Deliveroo profits have soared during the pandemic, with its riders delivering takeaways and groceries to millions of people across 12 countries. “Instead of affording riders the rights they deserve, Deliveroo has been putting even more pressure on them,” said Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which is supporting the riders’ network. “While competitors like JustEat are changing their ways, Deliveroo has left the riders feeding our cities struggling to feed their own families.”

Despite attempts by Deliveroo and other gig economy companies to misclassify riders, courts – including the Supreme Courts in the United Kingdom and France – are increasingly recognising direct employment relationships. Last month, a Dutch court ruled that Deliveroo misclassified its workers as independent contractors to avoid responsibility for holiday, sick pay and other employment entitlements. Spanish courts earlier came to a similar conclusion. These landmark rulings highlight a growing recognition of the legal and regulatory obligations on app-based companies, ITF said. I said it is supporting the #Rights4Riders network as part of its commitment to amplify organising by platform workers. In November 2020, the ITF launched 10 gig economy employer principles, which provide an outline for ending exploitation in the gig economy.
Read more: ITF news release and 10 gig economy principlesETUC news releaseRights4Riders. Source: Risks 989

Global: 65 journalists died at work in 2020

The circumstances in which 65 media workers died last year while doing their jobs has been revealed in a new report from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The global journalist union detailed how they had been victims of targeted attacks, bomb attacks and crossfire incidents in 16 countries. The 2020 toll was 17 more than were killed in 2019, when 49 media workers died. It brings the total to 2,680 journalists and media workers who lost their lives to violence in the world since 1990, when the IFJ started publishing annual reports to highlight what it describes as a deepening safety crisis in the media.

The IFJ said the number of media professionals’ killings are more or less on the same levels as in 1990s. The report cites organised crime groups, extremists and sectarian violence among the main reasons for the safety crisis in journalism. “In this regard, 2020 was no exception,” said IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger. “The ruthless reign of crime barons in Mexico, the violence of extremists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as the intolerance of hardliners in India and the Philippines have contributed to the continued bloodshed in the media.”
Read more: IFJ news release. Source: Risks 989

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