Union News

Today April 28: International Workers Memorial Day

Today we remembered the many thousands of workers who are killed at work or who die as a result of work. April 28th is International Workers Memorial Day, and this year for the first time in Victoria, official statistics acknowledged the toll of workplace illnesses. 

The commemoration ceremony held at the Trades Hall was extremely well-attended. Present were health and safety reps, union officials, representatives from WorkSafe and the the labour law firms, and a number of both state and federal politicians. The gathered crowd heard from a number of speakers:

  • Luke Hilakari - Secretary of the VTHC
  • Ms Ingrid Stitt - Minister for Workplace Safety
  • Mr Tim Pallas - Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations
  • Mr Colin Radford - CEO of WorkSafe
  • Ms Madelaine Harradence - Assistant Secretary of the ANMF

The names of the 49 Victorians who died as a result of work were read out and boots and shoes placed by young VTHC workers, followed by a minute's silence and the laying of wreaths.  Go to this page on the site for an overview of the event, or watch the video on the We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page, here.

This is an international campaign (see the Global Events Map). According to the ILO, 7,600 workers die of work incidents or disease every day. Take a look at what the ILO says, here. This year's international campaign theme is: HEALTH AND SAFETY IS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT AT WORK #IWMD21

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. 

Mechanic killed under car

It is with great sadness that we inform our subscribers that a mobile mechanic was killed last Thursday in Ferntree Gully while working under a car. Preliminary reports are that the 75-year-old man was working alone when the car rolled off a trolley jack, crushing him. WorkSafe is investigating.

The VTHC extends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the man.

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 14 for 2021.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Australia has had a total of 29,718 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and a total of 910 COVID-related deaths.  While it is clear that we continue to do very well in relation to keeping the spread of COVID under control, it is clear the country must continue to be vigilant, and improve the area in which we are very weak: vaccination rollout. 

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are terrifying: the cumulative number of infections last week was 143,541,237. Today it is 149,309,249. This is 5.77 million new infections in the past week, an increase of about 7 per cent, There have now been 3,147,969 COVID-related deaths around the world. (note these figures are updated constantly)

The situation in India has continued to worsen, with the number of new infections increasing to over 300,000 each day. Hospitals have reported running out of not just beds, but everything else: mask and other PPE, oxygen, ventilators, and so on. The Australian government is sending critical medical supplies to India to help with the outbreak which includes 500 ventilators, 1 million surgical masks, 500,000 P2 and N95 masks, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves and 20,000 face shields.

Many countries, including Australia, have now imposed a ban on flights from India. This means that there are about 9000 Australians stranded in India, with about 650 of these considered to be 'vulnerable'. The ban is currently in place until May 15. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rejected criticism he is abandoning these Australians in India and says he is committed to bringing people back as soon as it is safe.
Source: ABC news online

UPDATE COVID-19 Vaccinations

The vaccine rollout continues to have serious issues, including an increasing rate of what is being termed 'vaccine hesitancy'. A recent Guardian Australia Essential poll has found confidence in the rollout strategy is waning, with fewer than half of people aged over 50 are willing to get the AstraZeneca vaccine despite it being recommended by Australia’s health officials. The survey of 1,090 people, taken during a fresh political furore over hotel quarantine and after weeks of confusion about the government’s vaccine rollout, has also tracked a significant increase in those who said they would never get vaccinated against COVID-19, up from 12 per cent to 16 per cent over the past six weeks. Source: The Guardian

At time of press, 198,228 vaccine doses had been administered in Victoria. 

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 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,  

I would like to confirm the requirements to test and tag equipment supplied by the company for a home office. Is there a requirement for the business to carry out the testing on, for example, a laptop and charger, or a printer, or any cables if they have been supplied. I understand new can be provided with a new to service tag, but I'm talking about ongoing testing on equipment.

Under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer has a legal duty to ensure that any equipment provided to employees for use at home is safe, as if it were being used at the workplace, because for the time being, the home office is that employee’s workplace.

This includes ensuring any electrical equipment is safe by inspecting it and also having it tested as necessary. However, there is nothing specific about testing and tagging in the Act or the regulations, so there is no 'law' on how often this needs to be done. There is, however, an Australian standard, which while not law, would be considered part of the 'state of knowledge' employers must take into account.

A word of warning: I have learnt from experience at my  own workplace that there are firms which push their services, and overstate the ‘rules’  Check this page out for what the law says about electrical equipment.  You might also be interested in this general page of information on working from home – it’s not just the equipment an employer needs to be aware of and has duties in relation to.

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

Have you downloaded the OHShelp App yet?

OHShelp is a free, all-in-one app for Health and Safety Representatives. It has been designed to help HSRs stay informed, organised and in touch with their unions.

HSRs are now able to use the app to identify workplace hazards and access fact sheets written in plain language. The app also allows users to log issues as they find them, and to share the details with their employer, workmates and union. Check out more information on what's on the app, and how to sign up on the OHShelp website. For the moment the app is only available for union members, but a free trial is being organised for non-union members. 

Asbestos news

Victoria: asbestos waste a growing problem 
A post-COVID building boom is speeding up a massive asbestos challenge in Victoria. Those renovating schools and homes are increasingly finding asbestos. The state government’s latest asbestos disposal management plan shows more than 178,000 tonnes of the material made its way into landfill in 2019-20, and this figure is forecast to increase to more than 310,000 by 2031. Despite this, there are only 21 landfills across the state currently accepting asbestos, and over the next 30 years this could drop to just seven

The challenge of disposing of asbestos and asbestos contaminated materials was identified several years ago, including the low number of tips accepting asbestos waste. Source: The Herald Sun

Queensland: Asbestos found in over 100 schools 
Asbestos has been removed at more than 100 Queensland state schools in the past financial year, costing the state government more than $6.5 million to extract the hazardous material.  This was revealed in a response from Education Minister Grace Grace to a Question on Notice tabled in Parliament. 

Ms Grace said that the safety of students, staff and visitors was the department's highest priority. The state government spent $6,547,103 to remove the asbestos from 112 schools in the past financial year between 2020 to the end of February 2021.  The Queensland government spent $12,505,970 across 197 schools in 2019-2020, $11,356,197 across 165 schools in 2018-2019, and $16,272,283 across 225 schools in 2017-2018.

Ms Grace said asbestos-containing material (ACM) was commonly used in building products until the late 1980s. "As many Queensland schools were built before 1990, it is not uncommon for ACM to be present in these facilities. It is important to know that ACM that is in good condition and left untouched is relatively low risk." Read more: ABC news online  

NSW: Beach closed again 
Little Bay Beach in Sydney's eastern suburbs was closed for two weeks from Monday after more than 1000 pieces of asbestos-containing materials were discovered in the past eight months. Weirdly, although closed, it will reopen for weekends! Randwick City Council said the temporary closure will allow a detailed site inspection to "help better understand the location, source and historic asbestos-containing materials (ACM) found onsite". The council noted the nearby gullies may have been used as landfill sites prior to 1988 when the adjacent Prince Henry Hospital was operating. The first discovery was made by a resident at the beach in August 2020. Source: msn news

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

International Union news

UK: ‘Stark’ COVID death rates skewed towards insecure jobs 
According to a Trade Union Congress (TUC) analysis of official figures, COVID-19 mortality rates in the UK during the pandemic are twice as high in insecure jobs than in other professions.

The analysis shows the COVID -19 male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared to 24 per 100,000 people in less insecure occupations. The female mortality rate in insecure occupations was 25 per 100,000 people, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations. According to the TUC’s analysis, sectors such as care, leisure, and the elementary occupations have high rates of insecure work – compared to managerial, professional and admin sectors which have some of the lowest.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Too many workers are trapped on zero hours contracts or in other sorts of insecure work, and are hit by a triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay.” She added: “Ministers must urgently raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it – including those on zero hours contracts and other forms of insecure work.” The TUC leader warned: “If people can’t observe self-isolation when they need to, the virus could rebound. No-one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table. And ministers must tackle the scourge of insecure work by finally bringing forward their promised Employment Bill. It’s time to ban zero-hours contracts, false self-employment and to end exploitation at work.” Read more: TUC news release. Source: Risks 933

UK: Workers want a 'right to disconnect' 
Almost 6 in 10 workers across the UK want to see a new ‘right to disconnect’ policy in the forthcoming Westminster Employment Bill, new polling from the union Prospect has found. Overall, 70 per cent of those in Scotland and 59 per cent across the UK would support the policy, which would require companies to negotiate with their staff and agree rules on when people could not be contacted for work purposes.

Many countries have adopted similar policies in light of the increase of remote working, with Ireland introducing new rules this month and the European Parliament supporting similar proposals in January. The Canadian government recently established a "Right To Disconnect Advisory Committee" with business leaders and unions to set out new rules on a digital switch-off.

The potential downsides of prolonged remote working were explored in the poll, which found 30 per cent of UK workers reported their work-related mental health got worse during the pandemic. Over a quarter said they are finding it hard to fully switch off from work. Prospect said the figures reveal the ‘dark side’ of remote working and that legislative change is needed to help deal with the consequences of the continuation of mass working from home after the pandemic. Prospect has written to the government urging inclusion the Right to Disconnect in a consultation in advance of an Employment Bill. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “The new guidance in Ireland is another step forward. It is time that workers in the UK were protected too with a legal right to disconnect from work.” Read more: Prospect news release. TechRepublic. Source: Risks 933

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