Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since Victoria went into Stage 4 restrictions, introduced as a 'circuit breaker' when an outbreak related to a local man who contracted COVID in an Adelaide quarantine hotel under control. Since then, two separate variants of the virus have been identified in Victoria - the Delta and the Kappa variants (both previously referred to as 'Indian' variants). 

Today the deputy Premier, James Merlino, announced that restrictions would be easing from midnight Thursday: there will be no restrictions on leaving home, but people in metropolitan Melbourne can only go 25 km from their home. Workplaces can begin to bring workers back - beginning with 25 per cent of the total workforce or a 10 workers, whichever is greater. Schools will also go back. 

The wearing of masks, and the use of QR codes remain mandatory. 

There has only been one new community case identified in the past 24 hours (and one in quarantine), and two the day before. The total number of active cases in the state is 83.  Go to this page for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

Australia has had a total of 30,270 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months. 

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 174,714,584 (last week it was 171,938,586). This is over 2.77 million new infections in the past week, but continuing the downward trend which is now at 15 per cent. There have been a total of 3,761,133 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of about 11 per cent. (note these figures are updated constantly)

COVID-19 Vaccinations

We urge workers who are eligible to get their vaccines, particularly in the light of the fact that we now have two variants of concern in our community. If you are a 1a or 1b category worker, and under 50, you are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. Anyone between the ages of 40 and 49 can also book to have a Pfizer shot. For those who are over 50, get the AstraZeneca shot as soon as you can. The Victorian government has introduced measures to prioritise certain workers - at the moment this is paramedics and ambulance officers.

There have currently been 697,903 doses of vaccine administered in Victoria. 

For more information on vaccines, go to this Department of Health webpage to check the Victorian COVID-19 vaccination guidelines (the guidelines), appendices and resources available online. 

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

Tell us about your experiences of OHS

Australian Unions are conducting a survey about workers’ experience of health and safety in the workplace, and we really want your input. The survey will help Australian Unions, the VTHC and your union better understand your experience at work, what is important to you and what you think could be improved.

The responses we collect help to frame our conversations with governments and employers and develop campaigns to bring about the changes necessary to make work healthy and safe.

Unions had a win this month when work health and safety ministers from across Australia voted in favour of strengthening laws to protect workers’ mental health. These changes are a huge step forward in the prevention of mental illness, sexual harassment and gendered violence in the workplace.

Valuable input from workers like you has the power to bring about more of these changes that result in better health and safety conditions in every workplace.

The survey is open until 9th July 2021Take the survey now! Click here

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

My employer has decided that we don't need to have any first aiders, and that no one is required to have first aid training, as our workplace is within 30 minutes of an ambulance service. Are we still required to have a first aid box on site?
Thanks

No, your employer is not right to say that there is no need for a first aider - unless there are fewer than 10 workers onsite. Even if your workplace is within 30 minutes of an ambulance service, and is also designated as 'low risk', then at least one trained first aider is required:

 

Low-risk (eg offices, banks, libraries, most retail operations):

  • no exposure to hazards that could result in a serious injury/illness (as described below) requiring immediate medical attention
  • the business is located where medical assistance/ambulance services are readily available  

It may also be that your workplace is not 'low risk'. With regards to first aiders, the code states:

Low-risk workplaces:

  • one for 10 - 50 workers
  • two for 51 - 100 workers
  • one additional for every additional 100 workers

So, unless there are fewer than 10 workers at the site, you still need a first aider. See this page for more information. 

With regard to first aid kits - the answer is yes, the employer needs to have at least one first aid kit on site - even if there are fewer than ten employees. See this page on First Aid Kits for more information.   

So, I recommend that you raise the issue and question the decision they have informed you of - they have an obligation to consult with you about this before doing anything. Call the union for help if you need to. 

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

ACTU calls on government to act on silica

The ACTU has called on the Federal Government to urgently act on silicosis as 1 in 5 of those working with engineered stone are diagnosed with the incurable disease.

Workers across a wide range of industries are exposed to silica and other hazardous dusts. The ACTU has called for a number of actions to be taken, including the introduction of national laws to ban uncontrolled cutting of high silica content engineered stone, a reduction of the Workplace Exposure Standard for Respirable Crystalline Silica to 0.02 mg/m3 (the health-based standard) from the recently adopted 0.05 mg/m3, and a three year staged ban on the importation and manufacture of high silica content engineered stone. It has also called for the establishment of compensation funds to support those suffering from dust diseases such as silicosis and coal workers pneumoconiosis, and their families. These funds should be financed by particular industries, on the basis that ‘you pay for the harm you cause’.

The ACTU's Assistant Secretary, Liam O'Brien, said, "“Exposure to high quantities of silica causes lung cancer, silicosis and autoimmune diseases like scleroderma. These diseases are entirely preventable and the Federal Government must ban high silica content engineered stone products and promote the use of safer alternatives."

Last week the TV program, The Project, ran a very affecting story on the effects of inhaling dust from engineered stone benches, which, as Mr O'Brien says in the segment, are nothing more than a fashion item. Read more: ACTU media releaseCheck out The Project's story here. More information on Silica.

Have you downloaded the OHShelp App yet?

A reminder to HSRs about the OHShelp app - 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

National: ABF targets asbestos imports

The Australian Border Force (ABF) has begun a targeted period of action against imported building products at risk of containing asbestos.

Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, Jason Wood said the intention of the ABF’s Action was not to hold up any legitimate and safe building materials, but to protect the Australian community from asbestos.

The government is urging importers to consider if they may be unintentionally bringing in asbestos, including noting whether the country of manufacture allows any use of asbestos in the goods they are importing.  Asbestos has been detected in building materials such as cement fibreboards and panels, pre-fabricated housing kits, cut stone and tiles. Also of particular risk, said the minister, are parts, components and structural goods designed to resist heat or flammability.

Australia was one of the few countries in the Asia/Pacific region that had a comprehensive ban on all six types of asbestos and the ABF operated year-round to guard against its importation. 

Offences related to asbestos importation by individuals could attract fines of up to $222,000 or three times the value of the goods and/or imprisonment for up to five years. “For a body corporate the same border offence attracts a higher penalty of up to $1,110,000 or 15 times the value of the goods, whichever is the greater,” said the Mr Wood. Read more: psnews.com.au

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

State Library of Victoria Exhibition 

The changing face of Victoria exhibition explores the spirit of activism and invention, and its impact on modern Victoria, through four everyday themes: water, workers’ rights, camping and coffee. The exhibition is temporarily closed, but can still be explored online. 

On show are more than 150 objects, artworks and photographs that reveal the large and small ways we can all make a difference in shaping our world. 90 per cent of these collection items have never been exhibited before.

The Workers' Rights gallery celebrates the local 19th-century pioneers who set an international precedent for workers’ rights, and the movements continuing the fight today. From the ‘Do-it-together’ movements and the establishment of trade unions, to Victoria’s hidden workforce and work equality for women, discover the places where Melburnians have made their opinions heard and the changing power of political graphics and slogans. 

HSRs and workers will find this exhibition and its topics, for instance the history of the 8 Hour Movement, extremely interesting. 

International union news

UK: Union demands inquiry into government's handling of pandemic

UK union GMB says there needs to an ‘immediate public inquiry’ over the government's handling of COVID-19. This comes after big questions emerged over the government's role in the crisis. In a revealing seven-hour testimony on 26 May, the prime minister’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings raised questions over the UK government’s response to the pandemic and the role played by the prime minister. He also accused health secretary Matt Hancock of lying 15 to 20 times and blaming others for PPE failings. The health secretary subsequently said the claims were “not true”.

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “It’s abundantly clear that there was a lack of strategy and direction, hence why we are now getting so many differing accounts.” She added: “Last year during a PPE shortage, thousands of care workers and NHS staff were put in the line of fire whilst the government squabbled and lied to each other. They even hid thousands of COVID deaths, with just the HSE reporting 111 people have died at work whilst their own statistics, showed more than 5,000 people had died from COVID. It’s a disgrace and they deserve so much better.”

The GMB official concluded: “It's time for an immediate public inquiry as needless lives have been lost. We need answers and urgent safeguards put in place to protect workers still putting themselves in harm’s way.” A report last week from the peak council TUC noted that between April 2020 and April 2021 the ONS reported that 15,263 people of working age died from COVID. But according to the legally-required reports filed by employers just 387 (2.5 per cent) of these deaths were work-related. Read more: GMB news release. BBC News Online and related article on Dominic Cummings’ claims. Source: Risks 999

Bangladesh: Garment safety transition accord extended

Negotiations on the future of the 2018 Transition Accord on labour standards in the Bangladesh garment sector will continue after global unions and international fashion brands agreed to a three-month extension. The deal between global unions UNI and IndustriALL and a negotiating committee representing leading fashion brands must still be signed by the individual brands.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said, “The Accord has played an outstanding role in preventing fatal accidents since its creation in 2013, and the work must continue. This three-month extension is a very important commitment. It demonstrates that we will not allow the safety and health of the Bangladeshi garment workers to be jeopardised while we continue negotiating a successor agreement with the brands, preserving the achievements in Bangladesh and also expanding them to other countries.”

Christy Hoffman, UNI general secretary, added, “We welcome this extension, which will allow us more time to negotiate a successor agreement to the Accord. We must put the mechanisms in place to ensure the success and credibility of the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council  (RSC) as well as a safe workplace for millions of workers.” She said: “A decision by the Bangladesh High Court led to the day-to day Accord operations being handed over last year to the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council - a tripartite body made up of brands, factory owners as well as global and national unions.” Read more: IndustriALL news release. UNI news release Source: Risks 999

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