Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Australia has had a total of 29,862 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and a total of 910 COVID-related deaths. 

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continue to mount: the cumulative number of infections last week was 149,309,249. Today it is 154,975,534. This is 5.67 million new infections in the past week, a decrease of about three per cent, There have now been 3,241,047 COVID-related deaths around the world. (note these figures are updated constantly)

With 9,000 Australians stranded in India, with threats of huge fines and even jail if they breach the travel bans and try to return to Australia, the crisis in that country continues. Late last week the number of new infections daily increased to over 400,000. Yesterday it was over 380,000. The Indian government is claiming that their measures are beginning to take effect, with the numbers decreasing. However experts have cast doubt on the claim, as the number of tests has also decreased. 

The decision to implement the travel ban has caused a fierce backlash. The Prime Minister this week conceded that the likelihood of a prosecution is "pretty much zero" and indicated the ban could be reviewed before it's due to be lifted on May 15. The Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, while backing the actions taken by the government, said today that no-one would be jailed. Source: ABC News 

COVID-19 Vaccinations

As of Monday this week, any Australian over the age of 50 can book in for their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There are a number of 'hubs' in Victoria which are delivering the vaccines, and GPs will also be coming on board over the next week or so. At time of press, 230,404 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  

Over the past week we have received a number of queries relating to mobile workers not having access to facilities such as toilets. What does an employer need to do? Here's one example of such a query.

Hello Renata,  

I am a bus driver on the "Nightrider" service. The company has told us the run/route will be changed next week. The main break of 20 minutes on the new run will be at a stop where there are no toilet facilities for either male or female drivers. Can the company do this? 

This isn't very satisfactory, is it?

There are a couple of things to raise here with the company employer.

  1. If the company is changing the route/run and this is going to have any OHS implications, then it had a legal duty to consult when proposing this change – the consultation had to be with any elected HSRs, with or without any employees directly affected. Do you have an elected HSR? If so, then you need to take this up with him/her in the first instance as they have powers to not only raise the matter, insist on consultation, but take actions if it’s not resolved. If you don’t have an HSR, then the employer still had a legal duty to consult with affected employees. See: Duty to consult
  2. Your employer has a duty of care under s21[2][d] to provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities. See Duties of Employers. While it might not be reasonably practicable to provide toilet facilities at that stop, it’s clear that previously the run was organised in such a way as to ensure drivers had access to toilets. This is what the Compliance Code, which employers must either implement or do more than advised, to ensure they are complying with their duties under the Act:

Mobile, temporary and remote work

107. Many employees are required to work remotely from the employer’s primary workplace, either in other workplaces or moving between workplaces. Sales representatives, labour hire or agency employees, bus and truck drivers, visiting community welfare and health care employees, park rangers, forestry employees and security personnel are examples of employees who are mobile or are required to work remotely.

How to comply

108. Employers need to ensure that mobile and remote employees have reasonable access to amenities and facilities. For example, procedures need to be developed that provide mobile employees with access to dining facilities, hygienic storage of food and water, and toilets. This may include ensuring arrangements are made at customers’ or suppliers’ workplaces or the provision of information regarding publicly located facilities.

So, it is absolutely not reasonable for your employer to just change the run and remove your access to toilets during your break – the code says that procedures need to be developed - and in consultation with HSRs/employees – to ensure that you have access to toilets, water and so on. You need to request formally that the change to the run not be implemented until such time as there has been consultation and something worked out to ensure that drivers have access to toilet facilities. 

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

ACTU, mental health advocates and academics call on Cash to back reforms  

The ACTU has joined with mental health advocates and academics, releasing a joint statement calling on Minister Michaelia Cash and all Work Health and Safety Ministers to vote to support key reforms recommended in both the Boland Review of Model WHS Laws and the Respect@Work report on sexual harassment in the workplace at an upcoming meeting of state, territory and federal WHS ministers.

Both reports, commissioned by the Work Health and Safety Ministers and the Federal Government respectively, recommended the inclusion of a psychological hazard regulations in the Model Work and Health Safety Act. Such a regulation would require employers to treat hazards to mental health – such as stress, occupational violence and aggression as well as bullying and sexual harassment – in the same way as physical hazards in the workplace by identifying specific risks and addressing them.

Reforms to our WHS laws require two-thirds (6 out of 9) of WHS Ministers to agree to changes. It is likely that Minister Cash will be the deciding vote at the meeting which is scheduled to take place on the 20th of May and has the power to dramatically improve workplace health and safety laws in all Australian workplaces with regard to mental health.

ACTU Assistant Secretary, Liam O'Brien said, “These reforms are essential to making Australian workplaces safer and reducing the instances of mental health issues and psychological injuries which affect working people every day. Australia is one of the only developed nations in the world to not have equal protections for physical and psychological health and safety." Source: ACTU media release

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.
Register now - once registered, the ACTU will check with your union to verify your membership. 

Asbestos news

Asia: Asbestos in shipbreaking 

The South Asia Quarterly Update issued on April 28, 2021 on the health emergency at  shipbreaking beaching facilities dealt with, among other hazards, that posed by asbestos contamination on ships being scrapped in Bangladesh and India. The publication by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform noted the ubiquity of asbestos-containing material on board ships, the hazards posed by asbestos exposures to workers and local communities, the lack of capacity to safely handle this material at the shipbreaking yards, the incidence of asbestos-related diseases amongst shipbreaking workers and how weak national systems allow scrappers to exploit regulatory loopholes. See: South Asia Quarterly Update Number 25.  Source: IBAS 

USA: Multi-million dollar settlement 

On April 15 and 16, 2021, a Los Angeles jury returned verdicts totalling US$4.8 million in favour of Mr Willie McNeal Jr. in a case against Old Spice Talc manufacturer Whittaker Clark & Daniels. Mr. McNeal, a 78-year-old Vietnam veteran and retired school bus driver, was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Mr. McNeal's cancer, malignant pleural mesothelioma, is the "signature" cancer caused by asbestos.

Through his legal counsel, Mr. McNeal filed a lawsuit against several companies responsible for the products involved in his asbestos exposures. After three years of litigation, including lengthy delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic the case was resolved against all defendants except for one, longtime talc supplier, Whittaker, Clark & Daniels ("WCD").

Mr. McNeal used Old Spice powder as part of his daily personal care routine for 22 years. Like other consumers of talc-based personal care products, such as baby powder, cologne or perfume-scented powder, powdered makeup, and medicated powder, Mr. McNeal had no idea that the cooling, comforting product was exposing him to toxic asbestos. Read more: Yahoo! Finance

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

VTHC's Women Onsite news:

1 - Try a Trade Day, May 23

Women Onsite have partnered with Maker Community Inc. to deliver a ‘Try a Trade’ afternoon to provide aspiring tradeswomen with practical experience across three types of trades. Workshops for the day include:

🗜️Plumbing – Joining, bending and brazing copper tubes that are used in plumbing systems
🔨 Carpentry – We’ll be sighting pieces of timber and using a nailgun to get an understanding of what being a carpenter on big jobs is like
👩‍🏭 Welding – a chance to weld steel plate with an experienced female welder.

Participants will also have the opportunity to chat to the team about the Women Onsite program, next steps and opportunities.

WHEN: Sunday 23rd May 2021, 11am -2:30pm 
WHERE: Maker Community Inc. 215 Albion St, Brunswick 
COST: FREE. Spots are limited! Register now for this FREE program.

2 - Women and Super webinar

The first of 'Jobs Club' webinars, the Women Onsite team ran a very informative session yesterday on Women and Superannuation. If you missed it, you can check it out here, on the Women's Onsite Facebook page. It's well worth spending an hour to get great information on a range of super-related issues, from Lauren, from Australian Super. 

HSR Refresher training

All HSRs are entitled, and should, attend 'Refresher Training' each year subsequent to completing the five day initial training. 

Section 67 of the OHS Act 2004 entitles all OHS and Deputy Reps who have completed a 5 day initial training course to attend a one day refresher training course each year to keep their knowledge of OHS law and practice up-to-date.  It's important to take this right up, as the Refresher training provides an opportunity to catch up with new legislation and material, meet with other HSRs, and further hone skills. 

The refresher course covers:

  • Session 1 - covers legislative update on the Victorian OHS 2004 Act, OHS Regulations 2007, WorkSafe compliance codes and guides.
  • Session 2 - covers consultation, communication, problem solving.
  • Sessions 3 & 4 - covers hazard identification and control with either manual handling, work related stress, incident investigation or hazard mapping.


Course hours: 9am - 5pm
Course length: 1 day
Course fee: Metro: $330.00 incl. GST Regional: $350.00 incl. GST 

Upcoming 2021 dates and locations:

  • 21 May  – HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
  • 28 May – HSR Refresher Training (Morewell)
  • 3 June – HSR Refresher Training: Work-related gendered violence including sexual harassment (Carlton)
  • 25 June – HSR Refresher Training (Frankston)
  • 15 July – HSR Refresher Training: Work-related gendered violence including sexual harassment (Carlton)
  • 29 July – HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
  • 30 July – HSR Refresher Training (Ballarat)
  • 18 August – HSR Refresher Training: Education AEU (Abbotsford)
  • 19 August – HSR Refresher Training (Carlton)
  • 21 September  – HSR Refresher Training (Geelong)

Go to this link to enrol in a course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days' of the course.

NSW: ETU issues cease-work advice for Sydney smoke and particles

On Monday the Electrical Trades Union advised its Sydney-based members to cease work if they became affected by smoke from hazard reduction burns, with large parts of the city covered in particles from the fires.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment air-quality status and forecast webpage advised that "sensitive groups" in the Sydney metropolitan area should avoid outdoor physical activity that day if they developed symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath, while everyone else should reduce outdoor physical activity if they developed  symptoms.

"We have informed our members that they should protect their health and stop work if they are concerned about exposure to hazard reduction smoke in their workplace," ETU NSW secretary Allen Hicks said. "Under state and Federal laws all workers have a right to stop work if their employer can't provide a safe workplace," he said. "Smoke from hazard reduction burns can badly irritate the eyes and throat. Bushfire smoke also contains particles which can affect lung health, particularly for people who already suffer from conditions such as asthma or emphysema. These particles can place extra stress on the heart, leading to increased risk of heart attack." Source: OHS Alert

International Union news

UK: ‘Stark’ COVID death rates skewed towards insecure jobs 

The TUC is calling for an immediate public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The call came on International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, in memory of those who have died, been injured, suffered work-related ill-health or been infected at work. The union body asked members of the public to observe a minute’s silence at midday. Official figures show more than 11,000 working age people have died of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. The TUC says that alongside scrutinising the quality of decision-making across the pandemic response in government, the public inquiry must specifically look at infection control and workplace safety, including the failure to provide adequate financial support to self-isolate, PPE availability for health and care staff and other frontline workers throughout the crisis, the effectiveness of test and trace, and the failure to enforce the law on workplace safety. It adds it should examine the unequal impact of Covid-19 on different groups of workers, specifically Black and Minority Ethnic workers and insecure occupations among whom Covid mortality rates are disproportionately higher.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Any public inquiry must look at why workers were put at risk – be it through inadequate PPE or being unable to afford to self-isolate. This isn’t about settling scores. It’s about getting answers and learning the lessons to save lives in future. On International Workers’ Memorial Day, we remember those who have died, and pledge ourselves to fight for safe workplaces for everyone.” Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: “An independent, judge-led statutory public inquiry is vital to making sure we learn lessons and save lives during the pandemic and for any future waves.” Read more: TUC report calling on the government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks of their staff team returning to work outside the home. Source: Risks 994

Global: Big Mac makes little move on gender-based violence

Following significant international pressure by workers and unions to deal with systemic sexual harassment and gender-based violence in its restaurants, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski has announced new “Global Brand Standards” related to working conditions for the brand’s two million workers worldwide.

Although the move has been welcomed by unions, the global food and farming union IUF noted: “The announcement fails to mention cooperation with trade unions, an ‘essential element’ in ILO Convention 155 on occupational safety and health; prior efforts to end the systemic sexual harassment have proven ineffective due to lack of enforcement and involvement by trade unions.” It added the response from the fast food giant comes after years of international pressure by McDonald’s workers and their unions to get McDonald’s to adopt and implement genuine measures against sexual harassment and gender-based violence, including the filing of an OECD complaint last year.

Beginning in January 2022, McDonald’s says: “The new Brand Standards prioritise actions in four areas: harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention; workplace violence prevention; restaurant employee feedback; and health and safety. These standards were informed by a cross-functional global team, reviews of global market practices and perspectives from across the McDonald’s System.” The standards will apply to all McDonald’s restaurants, corporate-owned or franchised.

However, the IUF and unions “battling for the right to represent McDonald’s workers in the face of widespread resistance from the company believe the Standards will be completely ineffective without trade union representation in the workplaces,” IUF said.  
Read more: IUF news release. McDonald’s news release.


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