Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Victorian restrictions have been further eased to take effect later this week. Workplaces will be able to have 75 per cent or 30 workers at work, whichever is greater. The numbers of visitors to homes increases to 15, and many more will be allowed in venues, weddings, etc and at public gatherings. The wearing of masks indoors (no longer outdoors), and the use of QR codes remain mandatory. 

For information on restrictions, go to this Victorian government page (which will be updated soon if it hasn't already been updated).

In good news, there have been no locally acquired cases identified in the past few days.  The total number of active cases in the state is 51.  Go to this page for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: Coronavirus the Victorian situation

In bad news: NSW is now facing an outbreak of the highly infectious delta strain of the virus in the Bondi area, with 16 new cases yesterday bringing the total to 31. The NSW government has been slow in making the wearing of masks and checking in with QR codes mandatory. The Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, was expected to introduce some further measures today. 

Australia has had a total of 30,366 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months.

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 179,909,844 (last week it was 177,394,566). This is just over 2.1 million new infections in the past week, but continuing the downward trend which is now at 4 per cent. There have been a total of 3,897,354 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. The next two upcoming courses, to be held on 27th July and the 3rd of August have 'sold out', but more will be scheduled. 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 provides workers and HSRs the knowledge on how to ensure that the workplace is COVID-safe, how to audit the 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.

The coming sessions will be recorded and available to access, and we may schedule more courses, so keep your eyes on the journal for news of upcoming developments.  

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

I need some advice: a former staff member has contacted me and the other HSRs claiming his allegations of bullying by another (still current) staff member were never fully investigated or resolved. The information we have is that the matter was investigated by an independent 3rd party, that due process followed, and so on. The former staff member accepted a redundancy package at the end of 2019.

The bullying allegations, the investigation and the acceptance of a redundancy package all occurred before the current (three) HSRs were elected. I am not sure how to respond to him or what our responsibilities are here. Any advice would be appreciated.

Remember that under the OHS Act, you have no duties or responsibilities as HSRs at all – not to current DWG members and not to past members.

If the person accepted a redundancy AND it was before your time as HSRs I don’t think there is anything you can do about this at all. If he believes he was unfairly treated, he may be able to get assistance/advice from the union, but I’m not sure what could be done at this stage, given how long ago everything happened. You might just let the union know you’ve had this person contact you, and he may be getting in touch.

What you might like to do as the current HSRs, though, more in terms of ensuring that any future bullying allegations are properly, fairly and independently investigated is to look at the policies and procedures in place at your workplace – check whether you think they are:

  • Adequate – or do they need to be amended. Do they cover all steps needed (what the organisation’s policy is; expectations of staff; how to report an incident; how it will be investigated; due process for both alleged victim and alleged perpetrator; assistance available; etc)
  • Agreed – were HSRs/the OHS Committee involved in their development and implementation
  • Followed – or are they basically ignored?

It may be that it’s time to review them to ensure that they are as useful, fair, etc as possible. This should be done through the OHS Committee and you should contact your union for assistance and advice. You may find some useful materials in this section of the site.

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

QLD: Coroner will not investigate preventable backpacker death

This week the Northern Coroner found that the death of a 27-year-old backpacker while picking fruit was ‘preventable’ however decided not to hold an inquest into the death.

The young Belgian backpacker suffered multiple organ failure as a result of heat stroke after picking fruit for three days in 2017. The coroner found that the young man was ill-prepared for fruit picking, having brought limited food and drink to work and wearing only a singlet and shorts with no hat. The conditions were extreme, with high temperatures, humidity and limited shade.

The hirer (farm owner) was fined $65,000 after an investigation by the Office of Industrial Relations found failure to adequately assess environmental conditions and the effects of working in direct sun with little to no shade. The investigation also found no safe work or risk assessment procedures in place, no supply of PPE, no first aid officer on site and no induction for new fruit pickers.  It is unbelievable that the fruit pickers were expected to bring their own water. 

The young man's family had requested a coronial inquest into his death however the coroner did not believe an inquest would assist the investigation. Source: ABC news online

Asbestos news

Italy: Stephan Schmidheiny back in the dock 
On the morning of June 9, 2021, asbestos victims, their relatives and supporters again made their way to an Italian courthouse to bear witness: another day, another trial against Stephan Schmidheiny. The former CEO of the Swiss Eternit Group is facing charges of intentional homicide at the Assizes Court of Novara over hundreds of asbestos-related deaths in the town of Casale Monferrato including those of 62 former workers and 330 members of the public killed by exposure to Eternit’s asbestos. In the last decade, the Swiss billionaire has been charged by public prosecutors in various Italian jurisdictions with murder, manslaughter, aggravated culpable homicide, causing permanent environmental damage and failing to comply with safety rules. Read more: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

Japan: Historic Victory for Asbestos Victims 
After more than a decade, asbestos victims achieved their goal of holding the Japanese Government and building products’ manufacturers to account for injuries and deaths caused by occupational exposures to asbestos. On May 17, 2021 the Supreme Court of Japan issued a plaintiffs’ verdict in its first unified asbestos judgment. The Court accepted arguments advanced by the legal team representing 500 claimants in class action lawsuits brought by asbestos-injured construction workers or family members at courts in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Kyoto. In response, the Prime Minister of Japan met with victims to apologize on behalf of the Government and the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Tamura announced that a reconciliation agreement had been signed. Read more: IBAS 

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

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

USA: Healthcare rules come in after thousands die  
New emergency temporary standards have been introduced in the USA to protect healthcare workers from the dangers in the workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic. This new standard requires employers to remove workers who have Covid-19 from the workplace, notify workers of Covid exposure at work and strengthen requirements for employers to report worker deaths or hospitalisations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA).

This has been celebrated by the healthcare workers and unions but they have expressed disappointment that it does not cover all frontline workers such as meatpacking, grocery, transportations and corrections, who have all seen a high level of Covid-19 infections and death. Many of these workers are low-wage workers of colour who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The measures in place are starkly different to those we have implemented in Victoria. Read more: TUC Risks Health and Safety News

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