Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Australia has had a total of 29,938 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and a total of 910 COVID-related deaths. 

This past Monday a new case was identified in a returned overseas traveller who tested positive a few days after he returned to Victoria, having completed 14 days' quarantine in a South Australian medi-hotel. It appears he contracted the virus from a person who was in the room next to his in the hotel. As a result, the Victorian Department of Health has listed the exposure sites with advice to those who visited those locations regarding what they must now do. 
More information: DOH Media release Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continue to mount: the cumulative number of infections last week was 154,975,534. Today it is 160,316,996. This is 5.3 million new infections in the past week. While these numbers are still so huge, this is figure represents a downward trend of about five per cent in comparison to the previous week's increase. There have now been 3,330,828 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of 5 per cent as well. (note these figures are updated constantly)

COVID-19 Vaccinations

As of May 3, any Australian over the age of 50 has been able to book in for their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and we urge people to do so. There are a number of 'hubs' in Victoria which are delivering the vaccines, and GPs have also now begun administering the vaccines.  At time of press, 281,501 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 on International Nurses' Day: VTHC salutes their contribution during the COVID pandemic

On International Nurses Day (IND), the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and its members are calling on us all to acknowledge and celebrate the critical contribution nurses make in caring for the community each and every day. The VTHC OHS Unit would like to salute the the invaluable work done every day by nurses and other health care workers. 

ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said nurses have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in Australia and across the world and are continuing to staff vaccination centres. Today we acknowledge their extraordinary dedication and commitment, which for too many has come at a tragic cost, with over 3,000 nurses losing their lives throughout the pandemic to date.

“IND is a time when we can all stop and reflect on the tremendous work of our nurses across the country. And never has their courage and compassion been so clearly demonstrated as it has been over the last year. So today we acknowledge the critical role nurses have played in the fight against COVID-19 and the role they play every day in improving the health of our communities,” Ms Butler said. Read more: ANMF media release   

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,  

I'm an elected HSR at my workplace. I am not a union member.

Recently my employer 'updated' our Health and Safety policy (specifically relating to the powers of the HSR) without any consultation. There have been other amendments which they have additionally sent to the governing board for ratification without consulting the OHS committee. Furthermore, they have directed that I, as the HSR, copy in the chair of the committee for any future correspondence regarding any OHS matter. Am I required to do this?  I didn't think I was!

The chair of the committee was not elected by a committee vote, rather installed by the employer without consultation or a vote. I am not sure that is correct or allowable either?

I would appreciate any advice you have.

Hello HSR

What your employer has done is not acceptable. 

  1. The employer cannot just update a policy without consulting the HSRs – see Duty to Consult. The duty to consult includes when making any changes or ‘updates’ they want to make to any workplace policies.  
  2. The employer cannot remove/vary any of the powers and rights the Act gives HSRs: the Act is law, and these rights and powers are enshrined in the law, and so HSRs have these even if an employer changes the OHS policy. Go to this page to check what HSR powers are. So if the changes are trying to remove or limit any of these powers, then it’s not on… In my experience I have found that employers will often try to limit the ability of an HSR to issue a PIN for example, making them go through multiple steps, and layers of management before they are 'allowed' to issue their employer with a PIN. This is not acceptable - nor legal. 
  3. There is nothing in the OHS Act that puts ANY duties on you (or any other HSR) as an HSR. (see: I've  been given a duty statement) So no, your employer cannot direct you to copy in the chair of the OHS Committee - in fact your employer cannot 'direct' you to do anything as an HSR. 
  4. Finally, it’s also not right that the committee’s chair was appointed. The Act has little in terms of what must happen with a committee except that at least half of the members will be employees and, so far as is reasonably practicable, these will be HSRs or deputies. It puts a duty on the employer, under s35, to consult with HSRs when determining the membership of the OHS committee, but it is then up to the committee to work out its procedures. Read more on this here.  

It's a shame you are not a member of your union - this is something your union would have been able to help you with. It's never too late to join though - and I strongly recommend that you do!

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

VTHC petition calling on Andrews government to introduce regulations on psychological health

All workers deserve to be safe at work. This means safety from both physical and psychological hazards. 

Unfortunately, more Victorian workers than ever before are suffering psychological injury from mentally unsafe workplaces. This includes stress, bullying and harassment.  Victoria’s OHS laws have clear regulations around many of the most common physical hazards. When a physical risk is identified there are clear steps to fix it - however this is not the case with psychological health. There are no regulations on how employers must deal with psychological risks in the workplace. This makes it easy for bosses to sweep psychological hazards under the rug.

Will you sign our petition calling on Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government to reform occupational health and safety regulations?  

The Andrews government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make work safer for everyone. Together, we can make employers take your mental health seriously. These reforms will change lives and save lives. Add your name to the petition to help us reform OHS laws and win mentally safer workplaces for all workers.

Teachers Union welcomes new legislation

Last week the Minister for Education, James Merlino, introduced the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021, delivering on a key recommendation from the 2018 Protective Schools Ministerial Taskforce. 

The Bill will help empower authorised persons, such as school principals, to issue School Community Safety Orders to parents, carers and other people who engage in harmful, threatening or abusive behaviour. The new laws will also allow schools to ban parents who engage in threatening or abusive communication through social media and other channels.

The legislation will enable schools to impose requirements on the way that parents, carers or other adult members of the school community interact with the school or school community (such as imposing a requirement that the person not email school staff directly), or prevent them from going on school grounds or other locations where school events are occurring, if reasonably necessary.

The AEU President Meredith Peace welcomed the Bill and the strong statement that it makes about the rights of school staff and students to a safe working environment that is free from abuse and physical and psychological trauma. The details of how the School Community Safety orders will operate are yet to be determined but it is anticipated that the AEU and membership will be consulted in developing operational guidelines.

The union said that whilst this legislation is unfortunately necessary and will help to prevent injuries, the focus must still be on primary preventions rather than response interventions. This means that schools must be adequately resourced and supported to work with a diverse and complex range of needs in each community.  Read more: Victorian government media release 

Asbestos news

ACT: "Mr Fluffy" campaigner dies of mesothelioma

The campaigner who won financial aid for victims of "Mr Fluffy" asbestos cancer has died in Canberra.

James Wallner was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in July last year. He died at Clare Holland House hospice on Friday. He had grown up in a home in Canberra filled with asbestos sold by a company called Mr Fluffy. Earlier this month – days before Mr Wallner died - the federal and ACT governments agreed to set up a fund for victims.

When Mr Wallner was diagnosed with mesothelioma 10 months ago, he became a relentless - and ultimately successful – campaigner. About a thousand Canberra homes were treated with the same substance in the decade from 1978. At least four other men are thought to have died due to living in them. At the time of diagnosis, there was no scheme to compensate those who had contracted the illness at their homes. There was industrial compensation for workers in the asbestos industry but not for those who had contracted it outside workplaces.

Earlier this month, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said that he had been "deeply moved" and a fund to help cover medical expenses would be established. The ACT government will administer the fund and match the federal contribution.

Last year, the ACT government agreed to award Mr Wallner $250,000 to cover his medical costs. The first half of that amount was paid, but Mr Wallner died before the second sum became payable. Source: The Canberra Times

WA: Asbestos researcher awarded international prize

An internationally recognised researcher from the University of Western Australia who has helped improve the lives of mesothelioma patients has been awarded the world’s most prestigious prize for mesothelioma research – just the second time in its almost 20-year history that the award has been won by an Australian.

Professor Anna Nowak, UWA’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health and Medical Research) has won the Wagner Medal for her extraordinary contribution to research into mesothelioma. The prize honours pioneering South African research pathologist, John Christopher Wagner, whose 1960 paper in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine first linked asbestos with pleural mesothelioma, and recognised mesothelioma as a separate entity.

Professor Nowak was one of the first researchers to demonstrate that chemotherapy exerts positive immunological effects, which can be exploited by combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy. She has initiated and led multiple clinical trials, allowing WA mesothelioma patients access to cutting-edge experimental treatments.

As well as her role as UWA Pro Vice-Chancellor delivering research strategy and outcomes in health and medicine, Professor Nowak is also Director of the National Research Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases (NCARD), a practising medical oncologist at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and a member of the Board of Directors, Cancer Council WA. Read more, and check out a short video of Professor Nowak here

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

VTHC's Women Onsite: 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.

Job vacancy in the VTHC's OHS Unit

The OHS team is looking for a Project Organiser to join the Carlton-based team – responsible for the WorkWell project (short-term position until July 2022). 

The role will be responsible for delivery of the WorkWell project, aimed at increasing mental health safety for workers, run in conjunction with ACTU and affiliated unions. The WorkWell Project Organiser will provide outreach and support to unions, mental health advocates and OHS delegates in over 100 workplaces as they learn how to identify and manage psychosocial hazards.

The job is being advertised on Ethical Jobs here, please check it out for more details.  Applications close 5.00 pm, 24th May 2021

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)

Read more about the Work-related gendered violence course here: Knowledge is power in fight against gendered violence.  Go to this link to enrol in a course. Remember to then notify your employer at least 14 days' of the course.

International Union news

International: Call to tackle online violence against women journalists

New research has been carried out by the International Center for Journalists and commissioned by UNESCO: The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists focuses on the global prevalence of online violence ranging from “large-scale attacks or extreme threats at a moment in time, through to the slow burn of networked gaslighting, which involves constant lower-level abuse.”

Gender was identified as the key reporting theme most frequently associated with online harassment. The report concludes there is a ‘climate of impunity’, adding: “For too long, the emphasis has been on making women journalists responsible for their own defence and protection, rather than making the perpetrators and instigators, the platform enablers, and law enforcement and media employers accountable.”
Read more: The Chilling, International Center for Journalists/UNESCO report. [PDF] Source: Risks 995

UK: Official figures hide thousands of work COVID deaths 

Official worker fatality figures are hiding thousands of work-related COVID deaths, UK union GMB says. HSE figures are that just 111 people died at work during the year to 31 March. But GMB said according to the government’s own statistics, at least 8,000 working age deaths have been linked to COVID in England and Wales in 2020. The official statistics should reflect this in all forms, regardless of whether a legally required notification was made or not, the union said. It added that “workers still have to use inadequate PPE and unbelievably many still have to go into work sick because they can’t afford to self-isolate. These deaths must be properly acknowledged so we can make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.”

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “Worker death figures are always massively understated and exclude huge swathes of fatalities in the workplace. But after 12 months of a pandemic that has hit key workers hard – the gap is stark.” She added: “The deaths of 8,000 working age people is a devastating and bitter milestone that could have been avoided. But unless ministers acknowledge the UK was too slow to respond to the outbreak in workplaces, lessons can’t be learned. Workers still have to use inadequate PPE and unbelievably many still have to go into work sick because they can’t afford to self-isolate. These deaths must be properly acknowledged so we can make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.”
Read more: GMB news release. Source: Risks 995 

USA: Union report shows 275 US workers killed a day

In 2019, 5,333 working people were killed on the job and an estimated 95,000 died from occupational diseases, according to a new report from the US national union federation AFL-CIO. ‘Death on the job: The toll of neglect’ reveals that every day, on average, 275 US workers die from hazardous working conditions. And the union body says this toll was before the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. “This year, we commemorate 50 years of OSHA [the US workplace safety regulator] and the lives saved by ensuring workers are protected on the job,” said AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler. “Covid-19 has been a stark reminder that workplace safety protections are absolutely critical, and we still have a long way to go. As a country, we must renew our commitment to safe jobs for all workers and invest the resources to make that happen.”

AFL-CIO said one of the most disturbing statistics is the increase in the death rate for workers of colour. In 2019, there were 1,088 Latino worker deaths, compared with 961 Latino worker deaths in 2018. Black workers are also at an increased risk of work-related deaths. In 2019, 634 Black workers died - the highest number in more than two decades. Another alarming trend is growing workplace violence, the report noted, now the third-leading cause of workplace death. In 2019, violent workplace deaths increased to 841, while more than 30,000 violence-related lost-time injuries were reported. AFL-CIO said OSHA’s ‘meagre’ resources have severely declined in recent years. It said: “Renewed attention and dedicated resources to getting inspectors back on the job is crucial to fulfilling the promise of safe jobs for all workers.”
Read more: AFL-CIO news release. and report, Death on the job: The toll of neglect, 4 May 2021. [PDF] Report summary (in graphics).  Source: Risks 995

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