Union News

Reminder: April 28 is 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 29,293 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.  

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still worryingly high: the cumulative number of infections last Wednesday was 124,789,223  - the number today is 128,788,291. This is almost four million more - the week before it was almost 3.5 million (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,815,032 COVID-related deaths around the world.

Meanwhile, many Australians' holiday plans have been put in doubt: yesterday Queensland premier Annastacia Palazczuk announced eight new local cases of COVID, bringing the latest outbreak to 15 cases of the highly contagious UK variant. Also on Tuesday, the greater Brisbane area entered the first day of a three-day lockdown. Another measure introduced in the efforts to control the spread, Queensland workers must wear face masks in indoor workplaces, unless it is unsafe to do so, where physical distancing cannot be achieved.  All Queenslanders must carry masks when they leave home, and wear them (with some exceptions) in indoor workspaces, hospitals, aged care facilities, shopping centres, and public transport spaces including vehicles and waiting or queueing areas. The mask requirements apply to the whole state. Today the Premier said it is "absolutely encouraging news" (for the lifting of the lockdown) that the state has recorded just three new cases of COVID-19 — one in hotel quarantine and two linked to an existing case.

Meanwhile in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has implemented new restrictions until the end of Easter for the Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore shires. These are: limiting the number of people into the home to 30 and having a list anyone who has attended; re-introduction of the four square-metre rule; compulsory wearing of masks in retail, hospitality venues if you're a worker, on public transport, and taxis & ride sharing.

Vaccines update: At time of press, 99,065 Victorians had received at least their first vaccination. There is growing concern that the roll out of the vaccines has been too slow - far short of the federal government's proposed timeline. The problem seems to be availability of vaccines (from the federal government), even though there are more than 2 million vaccines currently in the country. 

The Department of Health has now made the Victorian COVID-19 vaccination guidelines (the guidelines), appendices and resources available online on this DHS webpage.

The guidelines provide advice and describe the minimum requirements for delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Victoria, in accordance with the requirements set out by the Commonwealth Government. Compliance with the most current version of these guidelines is a condition of the Public Health Emergency Orders and Secretary Approvals that have been developed to authorise the workforces participating in Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Copies of these authorisations can also be accessed from the new webpage. Currently, the guidelines are being updated weekly. Please ensure you are using the most up to date version. Updates are highlighted in yellow in the document.

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

Ask Renata  

Good afternoon Renata,  

My job means I have to stand for 7.5 to 8 hrs a day, on concrete. I am in this particular job as I sustained a back injury at work. I have foot pain, so I purchased orthotics, but these have not been much help. I also purchased new work boots. I still have back pain, and now also heel, leg, and hip pain. Is there anything I can do about it with my work? I am worried if I speak up they might not have a job for me anymore. I can walk around to do some stretches, and if it does get too much I can sit for a bit. I do spinal fitness for my back pain also.

Under s21 of the OHS Act, employers have a legal duty to provide and maintain for employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, ‘systems of work’ that are safe and without risks to health.

There are clearly problems with standing for so long, and also standing on concrete – so your employer is breaching their duty of care under the OHS Act (which is law). There is also actions they can take to make the system of work safer. See this page, Working standing up for more information.  I strongly recommend that you speak to your elected health and safety rep (HSR) and ask them to raise the issue with your employer. HSRs have the right to take up OHS issues on behalf of members of their DWG through the issue resolution procedures – see Resolution of issues

If you are in this job because you were injured, was on workers’ comp and are now back, then you also need to see your own doctor so that you can get clear advice to take to your employer regarding what you can and cannot do. 

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

Have you checked out the VTHC's new COVIDSafe workplace project? 

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!

Asbestos news

Victoria: Changes to rental laws require disclosure  

On March 29 the changes to the rental laws in Victoria came into effect. The changes clarify the rights and responsibilities of renters and rental providers – from before you sign a rental agreement until after the agreement ends – and apply to all types of tenancies, private rentals, caravan and residential parks, and rooming houses.

The law changes include a ban on rental bidding, new rental minimum standards, no eviction without a reason, allowable modifications by renters and urgent repairs.

The new laws include 'disclosure requirements'. Rental providers (landlords) must disclose important information to renters before they sign a rental agreement.  Before entering a residential rental, rooming house or site agreement, the renter, rooming house resident or caravan/residential park resident must be informed of a number of things, including whether the premises is known by the rental provider to have friable or non-friable asbestos based on an inspection by a suitably qualified person. Read more: Disclosure requirements before entering into a rental agreement guide

Unfortunately, the requirement is limited by what 'is known by the rental provider', so while the intention is good, it may be that many landlords will not know whether the premises has asbestos or not.  Read more about the new rental laws: Consumer Affairs Victoria.

The Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Melissa Horne, said “These reforms are about giving renters the right to safe, secure and affordable accommodation, while ensuring rental providers can continue to manage their properties effectively.” Victorian government media release 

Russia: Asbestos Cancer 

Russian and Kazakhstan asbestos stakeholders have long denied that the mining and processing of asbestos was a cause for concern for workers or people living near asbestos mines and factories. A March 26, 2021 article on the website of Tass – “Russia’s leading news agency” – which discussed research breakthroughs into the signature asbestos cancer, mesothelioma broke ranks with official policy stating: “residents of settlements near which fine-fiber asbestos silicate is mined are more likely to suffer from malignant tumors.” Source: Нейросеть научили подбирать терапию от вызываемого асбестом рака [Neural network taught to select therapy for cancer caused by asbestos]. International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS)

Canada: The Winds of change

In a sign of the changing times, a Quebec community which had long defended the commercial exploitation of chrysotile (white) asbestos is now lobbying the Provincial Government for millions of dollars to help manage the toxic environmental legacy from decades of asbestos mining. The president of the Economic Development Corporation of the Thetford region and mayor of Thetford Mines, Marc-Alexandre Brousseau has requested that the Minister of Finance Eric Girard allocate $320 million over five years for the decontamination and reclamation of the Bell asbestos mine site in downtown Thetford Mines; $50m is needed to carry out phase 1 of this project. See: Expected budgets for the management of asbestos and mining residues. Source: IBAS

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

International Union news

UK: TUC Union Health and Safety Rep Survey - 2020/21

TUC’s 2020/21 survey of more than 2100 workplace safety representatives reveals that many employers are failing to follow COVID-secure rules and keep workers safe.

Survey findings on Covid-19 and health and safety at work

  • Risk assessments: More than a quarter of HSRs said they were not aware of a formal risk assessment being carried out in their workplace in the last two years, covering the period of the pandemic. One in ten said their employer had not carried out a risk assessment, while 17 per cent did not know whether a risk assessment had taken place. Of those who said their employers had carried out a risk assessment, more than a fifth said they felt the risk assessments were inadequate. 
  • Workplace outbreaks: More than three quarters of HSRs (83 per cent) said employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in their workplace
  • Enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive: Less than one quarter said their workplace had been contacted by an inspector in the last 12 months.
  • Social distancing: A quarter said their employer did not always implement physical distancing between colleagues through social distancing or physical barriers. Just over a fifth said their employer did not always implement appropriate physical distancing between employees and customers, clients or patients.
  • Personal protective equipment: More than a third (35 per cent) said adequate PPE was not always provided. 
  • Mental health concerns and stress: Almost two thirds of HSRs said they are dealing with an increased number of mental health concerns since the pandemic began. Three quarters cited stress as a workplace hazard.

Download full report (pdf)

UK: TUC research into COVID-19 workplace safety outcomes in the food and drinks sector

The research report responds to the TUC’s calls for a strengthened health and safety agenda, improved safety guidance and tougher regulatory activity in the light of CoViD-19.  Alongside the reps’ survey, this report commissioned from the University of Greenwich, which shows an absence of health and safety compliance in UK workplaces.  

The research found 1 in 4 managers working in the food and drinks industry in the UK – a sector that has had several COVID outbreaks – were unaware of a COVID risk assessment in their workplace. 

The report:

  • shows those in workplaces with union health and safety reps were significantly more likely to have sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (73 per cent versus 53 per cent of those with no health and safety representative).
  • identifies the role that Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) have played during COVID-19, lessons learned and best practice for continuing and future waves.
  • the role of HSRs in risk assessment and the provision of PPE, but also in the (re)organisation of work and workplace ergonomics.
  • explores the role of unions in the protection of mental health, in ensuring that health and safety measures cover all groups of workers, and in maintaining the confidence of workers in their organisation’s capacity to keep them safe.
  • recognises the specific issues for the protection of key workers, the disproportionate outcomes for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers, but also for those on contractual arrangements with no direct relationship with employers.

Download the full report (pdf).  

 

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