Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Victorian restrictions update (for the next seven days after 11.59 Thursday June 17):

For metropolitan Melbourne:

  • 25km limit removed
  • private outdoor gatherings increased to 20
  • two visitors allowed to the home (plus dependents) 
  • gyms, etc open and more venues and businesses will be opening, with increased numbers
  • if you can work from home, should do so, but workplaces can have up to 50 per cent staff or 20 whichever is greater.

The wearing of masks indoors (no longer outdoors), and the use of QR codes remain mandatory. 

The restrictions for regional Victoria are further eased.  For information on restrictions, go to this Victorian government page (which will be updated soon after the media conference)

There have been five new community cases identified in the past 24 hours (and three in hotel quarantine), but new exposure sites have been added.  The total number of active cases in the state is 55.  Go to this page for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: Coronavirus the Victorian situation

Australia has had a total of 30,272 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months. 

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 177,394,566 (last week it was 174,714,584). This is almost 2.78 million new infections in the past week, but continuing the downward trend which is now at 9 per cent. There have been a total of 3,837,610 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of about 9 per cent also. (note these figures are updated constantly)

VTHC COVID Safety courses

The VTHC has been running free 2 hour online training courses on COVID Safety. The free online training, done through Zoom, and open to any who is interested, have been extremely popular, with the two scheduled next week 'sold out'. And so two more have been scheduled. The two upcoming courses will be held on: 

  1. Tuesday 27th July 12-2 pm: Enrol here
  2. Tuesday 3rd of August 6-8 pm: Enrol here 

But be quick - these are very popular!

Every worker has the right to a safe work environment and employers need to implement controls that will minimise the chances of spreading COVID-19. This free training course will provide you with the knowledge on how to ensure that your workplace is COVID-safe, how to audit your workplace for COVID safety and much more.

Together, we can make our workplaces safer for everyone. Because if your workplace isn't COVID safe, it's not safe.

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

I currently work for a market research company and was wondering about the monitoring of calls. Our supervisors have the ability to monitor our calls and interviews without the respondents' and callers' knowledge. Should workers always be informed they are being monitored, and for what purpose? (as per the advice on your site). Is monitoring without permission a breach of the law? 

Hello

On our website we advise workers that they "should always be informed they are being monitored, and for what purpose" - the advice provided is in terms of what sorts of things should and should not happen to try to ensure that the health and safety of workers is not affected. 

The matter you’re asking about is not specifically addressed in legislation. This is because OHS/WHS legislation in Australia is what we ‘objective based’ – that is, the duties on employers require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. The general duty of care covers everything in the workplace, tut the law is not ‘prescriptive’ – that is, it does not mandate HOW this should be done.  See this page on Duties of employers.

Being monitored the way you and other workers are, is, as you said, stressful and so it's something that we would class as being a 'system of work' that is putting your health at risk.  This is a hazard and the employer has a legal duty to do something about it. See the advice to elected health and safety resp about what they should do about hazards in call centres.

There may also be other, non-OHS related laws in place that mean that the company must inform the respondents that the calls are being monitored - but this is not my area of expertise. 

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

VCAT decision on HSR getting requested information

As HSRs know, the employer has a duty to provide them with access to information concerning hazards, health and safety of DWG members - under s69(1). However, under s69(2) the employer cannot give the HSR access to any medical information concerning an employee without the employee's consent unless the information is in a form that either does not identify the employee; or from which the employee's identity cannot reasonably be ascertained.

It has been the experience of many HSRs that when they have asked their employer to provide them with information such as what incidents their DWGs members have been involved in, or the names of DWG members who have been injured, their employer has refused. The reasons given vary from 'you don't need to know' through to 'this is medical information' to 'this information - the names of workers -  is covered by privacy legislation.' We disagree with these responses: names are not covered by 'privacy' when the workers are members of the DWG; informing the HSR that there has been an incident, who was involved and what injuries they suffered is not 'medical information' and finally, an HSR does need to know this information in order to be able to exercise their rights (eg to undertake an inspection, to identify what the hazards and risks are in order to raise these for resolution with their employer on behalf of their DWG, and so on).

Unfortunately, on too many occasions, WorkSafe inspectors have agreed with the employer - cancelling a PIN issued by the HSR when the employer refused to supply this information. Last year this happened to an HSR, who then appealed the inspector's decision through WorkSafe's Internal Review process. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, IR agreed with the inspector's decision to cancel the PIN.

The HSR, and his union, were not going to give up, however, and took the case up at VCAT. In a great outcome, VCAT decided that the HSR did, in fact, have the right to this information. In this case, it involved getting more information on, including the names, of DWG members who had been assaulted. VCAT took into account a range of issues: the OHS Act and why it provides HSRs with the right to access information, Privacy laws, and more. This was a great decision and will hopefully affect how employers and WorkSafe inspectors respond to requests from HSRs for information.  
Read more: Griffiths v Victorian Workcover Authority - WorkSafe Victoria (Review and Regulation) [2021] VCAT 561 (1 June 2021)

ACTU: Urgent paid leave needed to ensure workers are vaccinated

Last week the ACTU wrote to Prime Minister Morrison seeking for his government to provide two days special paid leave per vaccination for all workers in aged care and disability support services, as well as ensuring that all workers are paid for travel to and from getting vaccinated. ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, said, “Workers in aged and disability care are being asked to go without pay for multiple days to get the vaccine and deal with routine side effects. This is a huge financial disincentive for low-paid, insecure workers."

The letter also calls on the Morrison Government to honour its promise to provide in-workplace vaccinations for aged and disability care workers, as well as providing a public information campaign to make sure that working people have the information they need about the vaccine and how they can get it.

The ACTU has been in constant communication with the Prime Minister and his Ministers since the start of the vaccine rollout, offering assistance and campaigning for the support which we know is necessary to ensure that insecure workers in aged and disability support get vaccinated. Instead of working constructively with workers’ representatives the Morrison Government has walked away from its commitment to in-workplace vaccinations and has attempted to shift blame for its failed vaccine rollout onto workers who have been on the frontline in the fight against the virus. Read more: ACTU media release

A reminder to share your OHS experiences 

Remember to fill out the Australian Unions survey on your experience of health and safety in the workplace. The results will help Australian Unions, the VTHC and your union better understand your experience at work, what's important to you and what you think could be improved.

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

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. 

International news

UK: Almost 1 in 10 workers say they have been forced back to workplaces despite government guidance

The UK's top union council, the TUC, this week warned that UK employers were breaching official guidance by forcing staff to “needlessly” work in offices and other workplaces – and said this points to wider a health and safety enforcement crisis. New TUC polling revealed that almost 1 in 10 (9 per cent) staff have been put under pressure by bosses to return to the workplace – a number that rises to over 1 in 6 (17 per cent) for disabled workers. 

This is contrary to current government guidance – and the union body says it is “the tip of the iceberg” of employers ignoring their health and safety responsibilities.  The findings come amid heavy speculation that the Prime Minister would delay ending COVID restrictions in England, including the work from home guidance, in a bid to combat the sharp increase in cases. In fact, the government announced that the easing of restrictions would be delayed by four weeks after the original June 21 'unlocking'. 

The TUC says the government must send a “clear message” to employers not to breach the current guidance - which states that people should work from home if possible – to reduce community transmission and keep workers safe. The TUC polling revealed that 1 in 4 workers (25 per cent) are working from the office or other workplaces despite being able to work from home. Read more: TUC press release; The Sydney Morning Herald    

S-E Asia: workers face huge risks of contracting COVID

Across south-east Asia, countries that last year managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic are now facing new waves of COVID-19, fuelled by more contagious variants. In several countries in the region, such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia, there are now clusters in key manufacturing sites. In Vietnam, which had virtually eradicated the virus, total cases have tripled since the start of May, reaching almost 10,000, driven partly by outbreaks in factories.

Malaysia has been forced to impose a lockdown this month after daily cases surpassed 9,000. Much of the country’s manufacturing sector has been allowed to continue operating at limited capacity throughout lockdown, despite concerns raised by campaigners. Last week it emerged that more than 800 workers at glove maker WRP (a supplier to Ansell) had tested positive for COVID.

“Unfortunately the whole setup of these production lines and factories is not conducive to COVID-19 prevention,” said Andy Hall, a specialist in migrant workers’ rights.
Read more:  Factory workers making goods for the west bear brunt of virus surge in South-East Asia The Guardian

Brazil: Public cleaning workers demand vaccination for the sector

Cleaning workers in Brazil, including garbage collectors, held a 24-hour demonstration in the city of São Paulo last week, demanding vaccination for the sector. Getting shots for these vital workers has not been prioritized during the pandemic.

According to Moacyr Pereira, president of Conascon, the Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Empresas de Prestação de Serviços de Asseio e Conservação, Limpeza Urbana e Áreas Verdes. ""The objective is to move the mayor to put the garis in the vaccination line. Conascon participated in the construction of the National Immunization Plan carried out by the federal government and the vaccination of garis is already planned, but the responsibility for putting workers on the vaccination list falls on the city mayors."

The president of SIEMACO-SP, Edson Andre dos Santos Filho, added, "these workers have been exposed since the beginning of the pandemic and without them the situation would be even more tragic in Brazil."

The "garis" are those who clean the streets in Brazil's cities and for the last year-and-a-half, they have been on the front line, keeping their communities sanitary while putting their health at risk. Since the beginning of the health crisis, more than 60 deaths have already been registered in the cleaning sector, with almost 2,000 confirmed cases in the capital alone. Read more: UNI global union news

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