Union News

Another two Victorian workers killed at work

On Monday this week WorkSafe issued a media release with the news that it is investigating the death of a painter at a residential property in Terang last Tuesday, March 16. It is believed the 63-year-old man was working alone before he was found unresponsive by the property's owner around 11.00 am.

The second fatality occurred on the evening of this Monday, March 22, when a man was electrocuted while working alone in a West Melbourne building. WorkSafe believes the 21-year-old was undertaking electrical work on a car stacker elevator when he was killed. 

WorkSafe is investigating both of these incidents.

The two deaths bring the workplace fatality toll to ten for 2021. The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the men's family, friends and colleagues.

Tradies walk to raise money for memorial

On the third anniversary of the deaths of Jack Brownlee and Charlie Howkins in a trench collapse near Ballarat, a group of tradies, friends and family, are walking to raise money for a memorial to honour the young men and others killed in workplace incidents. The tragedy occurred on March 21, 2018. Mr Howkins was killed instantly, while Mr Brownlee died in hospital the next day. 

The four-day, 127 kilometre walk from Geelong to Ballarat was Kelly Dubberley's idea. He is Jack Brownlee's father's best mate. The group had aimed to raise $10,000 towards the cost of the memorial, Mr Dubberley said, but they have already surpassed that amount and are now aiming for $20,000. The memorial is planned for parkland in the housing estate near where Mr Brownlee and Mr Howkins were killed. While nothing will bring back the two young men, it is hoped the memorial will become a place people can gather with others who have lost loved ones in workplace incidents. Mr Brownlee's parents, Janine and Dave, and Mr Howkins' wife, Dr Lana Cormie, were key in the successful VTHC campaign for the introduction of industrial manslaughter laws in 2019 to hold employers accountable for the deaths of workers and others. The legislation came into effect in July 2020. However we are yet to see any employer charged under the new laws. 

Secretary of Ballarat Trades Hall Brett Edgington said the memorial would become the focus of Workers Memorial Day each April. "A few hundred people can be accommodated around the memorial in parkland, it will be a positive and affirmative piece of public art," he said. 
Read more: ABC News online; Industrial manslaughter laws

April 28: International Workers Memorial Day

April 28th is International Workers Memorial Day, and this year for the first time in Victoria, official statistics will acknowledge the toll of workplace illnesses.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim the lives of health workers and frontline workers around the world, it is particularly relevant to stop and hold a (socially distanced) vigil remembering the dead and fighting for the living. Join workers and bereaved family for a moving ceremony at Trades Hall on 28 April at 10.30 am. RSVP here.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 29,211 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.  

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths seem to be levelling off: the cumulative number of infections last Wednesday was 121,214,690  - the number today is 124,789,223. This is  almost 3.5 million more - the previous two weeks saw over 5.5 million, then 3 million more cases. While some the numbers in some countries seems to be decreasing, countries such as Brazil (see below) are seeing a surge. (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,745,378 COVID-related deaths around the world.

On Tuesday this week, Victoria's Acting Premier, James Merlino, and the Minister for Health, Martin Foley announced that the current restrictions will be further eased from 6 pm Friday March 26. The changes include masks no longer being required in retail settings - Victorians will still need to carry one with them at all times and wear it on public transport, in rideshare vehicles and taxis and in sensitive settings such as aged care facilities and hospitals.  There are also changes to numbers of people allowed to gather in homes, and changes to density requirements - now 2 square metres per person. Caps on workers returning to workplaces no longer apply, all workplaces must still have a COVIDSafe plan in place, and observe the new density limits.

The Minister for Health, Martin Foley said, “These changes are another positive step in Victoria’s social and economic recovery but also a reminder that now is not the time to be complacent – we must continue to keep each other safe, so we can stay open.” Read more: Victorian government media release.

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.

Meanwhile in Brazil, despite soaring infections - 73,400 yesterday and about 3,000 COVID-related deaths daily - President Jair Bolsonaro is not convinced that lockdown measures are effective and is now asking the country's Supreme Court to reverse coronavirus restrictions imposed by several federal states. Brazil has the world's second-highest number of COVID-related deaths - only behind the US.

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

Reminder: 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 this Friday, 26 March, 2021  

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

What is required to be displayed on an OHS noticeboard? The only thing I can find is the 'If you are injured at work' poster. My employer wants to remove the board and put everything online

According to the law, there are a couple of things which must be displayed. You are correct in that one of them is the ‘If you are injured’ poster. The second is a list of each HSR and deputy HSR for each DWG – this must be displayed at each workplace under the management of the employer (s71 of the OHS Act).

Further, if any HSR issues the employer with a PIN, then the person to whom it was issued must (under s60(4)(b)(ii)) “display a copy of the notice in a prominent place at or near the workplace…”

So, the employer cannot just decide to get rid of the noticeboard and insist that everything go online. That would be a breach of his duties under the OHS Act.

In addition to all the above, under s69(1)(e), the employer has a duty to ‘provide such other facilities and assistance to a health and safety representative for the DWG as are necessary or prescribed by the regulations to enable the representative to exercise his or her powers under this Part.’  While there is nothing specific in the regs, the following is advice provided by WorkSafe in its recently updated Employee Representation Guide:

What facilities and assistance is the employer required to provide to the HSR?

The employer must provide such other facilities and assistance to an HSR for the DWG as are necessary or prescribed by the OHS Regulations to enable the HSR to exercise their powers under part 7 of the OHS Act.

What is reasonable in the particular circumstances will depend on a range of factors, including the nature of the work and the working environment, hazards present and the composition of the DWG. Such facilities may include:

  • access to a private room, desk and chair for discussions or interviews
  • facilities for filing, for example a lock-up filing cabinet and shelves
  • ready access to a telephone, internet, and email
  • access to computers and photocopying facilities
  • access to meeting rooms for meetings of HSRs and meetings of the DWG
  • access to relevant technical equipment (for example a camera or noise meter)
  • use of noticeboards
  • transport or travel expenses to commute between workplaces, if required.

So if the employer is trying to remove a noticeboard which you find useful and have been using,  then you could consider issuing a PIN -or at least going through the issue resolution procedures – see Resolution of issues.

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

VTHC launches new COVIDSafe workplace project to help workers

The COVIDsafe workplace project is run by Trades Hall to make sure that workers in communities and industries that are most at risk of COVID are provided with a safe workplace and are informed enough to be COVIDsafe at work. 

If you have any concerns about anything that’s happening at work regarding COVID safety- such as your workplace being unclean, too crowded or you’re being told to attend work when sick- then join together with other workers and do something about it. Visit the COVIDsafe workplace website to get the information you need to help make sure your workplace is safe.

Visit the COVIDsafe workplace website now. Because if your job isn’t COVIDsafe, it’s not safe!

OHS Help App
A reminder to signup for the OHS Help app has been developed by unions to put important resources at your finger tips. If you have not yet registered for the OHS Help App, you can do so here.

The app will help you:

  • Find advice on particular workplace hazards
  • Practical how to guides about OHS topics such as PINs, consultation and much more.
  • Easy access to OHS resources, including information on the VTHC's OHS [email protected] website
  • Log issues with your union
  • Access your legal HSR rights and powers at a glance

We'd love to hear what you think of the new app. 

Parliament House staffers "strike"

Parliament House staffers yesterday held a sit-in in the room (the so-called 'Prayer' or 'Meditation' room) where employees allegedly have sex during work hours, saying the building is a “disgusting” place for women to work.. The strike is reaction to yet another scandal which puts Prime Minister Scott Morrison under pressure to take urgent action on cascading issues inside the Liberal party.  

Two dozen staff – women and men – from Labor and the Greens attended, calling for urgent reform in making parliament safer and more comfortable for women. They were there for a short period before returning to work. Organiser of the 'strike', Georgia Tree, admitted it was unusual for staffers to speak publicly about internal affairs, but said women have “had enough”. “That someone would do that to their own boss is horrific, but that culture is pervasive,” she said.

Reports from Channel 10 and The Australian on Monday alleged Coalition staffers took photos of their genitalia inside the Parliament offices of their politician bosses, as well as airing claims that staffers regularly brought sex workers inside the building for their MPs. One employee reportedly captured himself committing a solo sex act on the desk of the female politician he worked for, sending it to a Facebook Messenger group of other staffers. That staffer was identified and terminated moments after the Channel 10 report was aired. Read more: The New Daily

Asbestos news

Victoria: Clean up at Lara continues

The huge task of the clean up and removal of a contaminated waste stockpile near Geelong began in April 2019 after the site's owner went into liquidation leaving a clean-up bill of $100m. The now insolvent C&D Recycling company abandoned what was thought to be about 320,000 cubic metres of mostly building waste at Broderick Road in Lara after it shut in December 2017. The stockpile, a fire hazard which is also contaminated with asbestos and other toxic substances, has taken years to clear. Over 133,000 cubic metres of waste has already been taken away. 192,000m3 of material remains onsite.

Project Manager Michael Fitzgerald said "Due to the presence of asbestos in the stockpile, the material is unfortunately unsuitable for recycling,” he said. "EPA’s role at Broderick Road is to reduce the risk of a fire, clean up the site and make it safe, and to dispose of the waste materials at properly licensed facilities." The clean-up job is expected to be finished mid-next year.

ACT: Schools asbestos, lead clean up costs almost $40m

ACT’s Education Directorate has spent almost $40 million in the past four years cleaning up lead paint and asbestos in schools, admitting they only informed parents of the most recent contamination because of media attention.

Ten sites at nine schools recorded lead dust readings above the acceptable threshold since the beginning of this year. The discovery of lead dust at Richardson Primary School prompted the directorate to test the heating ventilation and cooling systems across schools of a similar age.

A directorate spokesman said the recent discoveries were low risk because the hazardous materials weren't accessible to staff and students. Nevertheless, the directorate should have informed both staff and the families of students when either asbestos or lead dust was discovered, how and when the clean up would be done, and when works were completed. 

Meanwhile, documents released under freedom of information laws showed the directorate forked out $38.7 million in four years since the 2016-17 financial year to remove and remediate hazardous materials. Source: The Canberra Times

South Africa: Last white president diagnosed with mesothelioma

Frederik Willem de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, has been diagnosed with cancer according to an announcement made by his charitable foundation. De Klerk, known by his initials FW, recently turned 85 and is suffering from mesothelioma, the asbestos-related cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. The FW de Klerk foundation said there is no 'immediate threat' to his health and they are hopeful that treatment will be a success. However, there is currently no cure for mesothelioma. Read more: The Daily Mail.

November 22 - 28: National Asbestos Awareness Week

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

UK: Health union and TUC slam idea of forced COVID vaccine

A government plan to force all NHS (National Health Service) and care staff in England to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has been criticised as “sinister” and likely to increase the numbers refusing to have the jab. Health unions and hospital bosses urged the health service to continue its efforts to persuade its 1.4 million workforce in England to get immunised rather than resorting to compulsion and “bullying” to try to increase take-up. Downing Street did not dispute a 2 March report in the Daily Mail that it was considering making it mandatory for everyone working in health and social care to be vaccinated as a way of protecting patients. But the report triggered unease and criticism from key organisations in both sectors.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Forced vaccinations are the wrong way to go and send out a sinister and worrying message. Encouragement and persuasion rather than threats and bullying are key to a successful programme, as ministers themselves have repeatedly indicated.” She added: “Mandatory jabs are counterproductive and likely to make those who are hesitant even more so. This will do nothing to help health and care sectors that are already chronically understaffed.” Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chair of council, said: “Any proposal for a compulsory requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated raises clear ethical and legal implications.” 

Also commenting on leaked cabinet plans that the Prime Minister and Health Secretary have agreed to make vaccinations a legal requirement for people working in care homes, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Getting everyone vaccinated as quickly as we can is the best way to make sure our workplaces are safe, to protect care home residents, and to open up our economy again.  But forcing workers to get vaccinated isn't the right way to do this. Not only will it harm trust and employee relations, it may also be discriminatory and leave employers open to legal challenge." She said, "Instead, bosses should make it as easy as possible for care workers to get vaccinated, for example by giving them paid time off for the appointments and guaranteeing decent sick pay for any time off to recover. They should consider running on-site vaccination clinics and bringing in health professionals to talk through workers’ concerns.  Read more: UNISON news releaseDaily MailThe Guardian. Sources: Risks 988, TUC media release

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