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 of 29,442 cases of coronavirus diagnosed.  There has been just one more death - that of a man in his 80's who came into the country from the Philippines. 

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still worryingly high: the cumulative number of infections when we last published SafetyNet on Wednesday March 31 was 128,788,291. Two weeks later the number today is 138,013,074. This is almost ten  million more infections! (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,971,864 COVID-related deaths around the world. It had been hoped that the numbers would reduce due to increasing numbers of people being vaccinated - but it may be that in many countries the vaccination programs have been slow. 

This has certainly been the case in Australia - originally the Federal government had planned to have every single person in Australia receive at least their first vaccine by October of this year. However, this goal has now been abandoned - due in part to supplies from Europe not being at the levels expected, but also due to poor planning of the rollout by the Federal government. The recent decision to not vaccinate under 50's with the AstraZeneca vaccine will also have an effect on the numbers being vaccinated.

At time of press, 152,363 Victorians had received at least their first vaccination. Also since our last SafetyNet, Victoria has begun to welcome returned travellers into its upgraded hotel quarantine program.   

Reminder: The Department of Health's 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. The guidelines are 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 

Union says Morrison government fails nurses

After conducting a survey of some of its members over the Easter period, the Victorian union for nurses, midwives and personal care workers is calling on the Federal Morrison Government to urgently ask the Andrews Government to take on the vaccination program for the Commonwealth’s phase 1a private aged care workforce.

The survey revealed that 86 per cent of Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Vic Branch) private aged care members – nurses and personal care workers – had not received a vaccination. Of those who had been vaccinated, most had grown tired of waiting for the promise of a workplace vaccination and arranged their own vaccination through their private GP. A report in today's media says that many aged care and disability workers are scrambling to source their own COVID-19 jabs after being left behind by the slow and uncertain Commonwealth-run vaccination rollout

The ANMF said Morrison Government, which is responsible for the vaccination of private aged care residents and staff, across the country originally planned to contract agencies to vaccinate residents and staff in the nursing homes. 

ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said ‘The Morrison Government must prioritise vaccination of private aged care staff at work given the hundreds of resident deaths in this sector last year. Their hands-off approach ignores the brutal aged care lessons we learned during last year’s COVID-19 outbreak." Ms Fitzpatrick said, "By outsourcing their responsibility under the guise of choice, the Morrison Government has abandoned private aged care nurses, personal care workers and other staff."

Meanwhile the Victorian Andrews Government, which is responsible for the vaccination of public aged care residents and staff, is using an effective combination of outreach services and hospital and vaccination hubs. The vast majority of the state’s public aged care workforce has been vaccinated with many having received their second dose. Read more: The Age and ANMF Media release

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,  

Can a DWG have more than one HSR and if so do they all have the same rights and powers?

The default under the OHS Act is one HSR per DWG, and until the 2004 OHS Act was introduced, this was the only option.

However, changes were introduced in 2004 and now either party to the agreement regarding the number and composition of DWGs can seek to vary the DWG to have either more than one HSR and/or a deputy HSR for each HSR.

This is under s43-46 of the Act. A request to vary must be made and the employer must agree to negotiate. If agreement cannot be reached then a WorkSafe inspector can be asked to come to the workplace to determine any unresolved particulars.

The Act says that the negotiations must take into account the need for DWGs to be set up so that they:

  1. best and most conveniently enable the interests of employees (in the DWG) to be represented and safeguarded, and
  2. best takes account of the need for an HSR to be accessible to each member of the group.

So for example if an HSR has a large number of workers in their DWG, then it's going to be very difficult for that HSR to be accessible, and so there need to be changes made. The DWG could be varied so that there are two or more DWGs. Or, if the DWG is very large but not easily divided, then the option is to have more than one HSR. See: Designated Work Groups.

Each HSR has the same rights under the OHS Act - to training, and the power to issue PINs, order ceaseworks, etc.

If the decision is to have deputies (either to the one HSR or to more than one), then the deputies have the right to attend training, but can only exercise their rights if the HSR is not available (eg if the HSR is on leave).

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

Queensland: Former Gympie Nestle worker at centre of asbestos fight

A deceased former Gympie Nestle worker is at the centre of a civil court fight amid allegations he and another man were exposed to asbestos while working with products created by Klinger Limited that led to their deaths.

The man was a maintenance fitter at the Gympie plant from 1961 to 1998, where he worked with Klingerit gaskets. He died in 2018, from malignant mesothelioma.

It is alleged he developed the disease from inhaling asbestos dust and fibre caused by the company’s failure to take reasonable care to avoid exposing people to “the risk of foreseeable injury arising from the supply, sale and subsequent use of Klingerit”. 
Read more: The Gympie Times  

Study reveals over 65 per cent of ships still operate with asbestos

Despite the introduction ten years ago of regulations prohibiting the use of asbestos materials onboard ship, a significant number of existing and newbuild vessels continue to operate systems and machinery containing the hazardous substance.

According to CTI Group subsidiary and Singapore-based maritime testing facility Maritec, which carried out asbestos surveys for IMO compliance between 2011 and 2020, more than 55 per cent of in-service vessels and 50 per cent of all newbuilds were found to contain asbestos materials.

“Although newbuild ships are delivered with an asbestos free declaration, in many cases asbestos has been found onboard during subsequent surveys, or port state inspections,” said John Rendi, Maritec’s General Manager, Environmental Services. 
Read more: Baird Maritime

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

International Union news

UK: TUC safe return report warns of infections ‘rebound’

The UK government and employers have been warned that “infections could rebound” if workplaces aren’t COVID-secure, the TUC has warned. The alert from the union body came ahead of the reopening of hospitality and non-essential shops on 12 April. The TUC said the vaccine rollout and workplace testing must not be used as an excuse to relax safe working rules.

Over 11,000 working age people have so far died during the pandemic, with thousands of reported outbreaks in workplaces and many more going unreported.

A new TUC report sets out the steps ministers and employers should take to keep people safe at work and to prevent another spike in workplace infections. It says all employers must update their risk assessments to take account of what we now know about the importance of ventilation. It points out that as the UK unlocked in summer 2020, more emphasis was placed on surface disinfection – but we now know effective ventilation should be a higher priority.

The TUC adds that any activity which can be conducted outside should be, and that employers should invest in ventilation systems, as well as continuing to enforce social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. The union body wants decent sick pay for all and adds companies should seek to persuade staff to get the vaccine, but not make it a condition of employment. The TUC says that making vaccinations compulsory will damage employer-staff relations and could result in legal cases on the grounds of discrimination.
Read more: TUC news release and Safe Return To Work report, April 2021 [pdf version]. Source: Risks 992


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