Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

With the outbreak in Victoria seemingly under control, our restrictions have been reduced to mask wearing, distancing and space quotients and maximum numbers for gatherings and at workplaces. These have been increased: for example, 75 per cent or 30 workers at work, whichever is greater; numbers of visitors to homes is 15, and so on. 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 is regularly updated). There has only been one locally acquired case in Victoria over the past few day.  The total number of active cases in the state is 34. Go to this page for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions: Coronavirus the Victorian situation

In bad news: The Sydney cluster of the Delta variant of the virus, which was identified in the Eastern suburbs around Bondi, has kept increasing and last weekend the Berejikllian government implemented a Greater Sydney wide lockdown for two weeks. This followed an unsuccessful, limited lockdown of a number of LGAs. Further, there have been cases of the Delta variant identified in other states and territories. 

Australia has had a total of 30,554 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and no COVID-related deaths for months.

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 182,565,124  (last week it was 179,909,844). This is over 2.65 million new infections in the past week - of concern is that the downward trend we had seen over the past weeks has reversed, and there was an increase of 5 per cent.  There have been a total of 3,953,468 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of 5 per cent - but with cases increasing this may also increase. (Note these figures are updated constantly)

Vaccination to be mandatory for some workers

With less than 5 per cent of Australia’s population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 more than four months into the rollout, Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday announced significant changes following an emergency meeting of national cabinet. From September, it will become mandatory for all aged care workers to have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while adults of all ages – including under-40s not yet eligible for Pfizer – can now request the AstraZeneca jab from GPs, who will be indemnified by the federal government. These announcements have led to a great deal of confusion. There have also been discussions regarding making vaccine mandatory for other workers, such as those transporting overseas travellers. 

The introduction of mandatory vaccines for workers in some industry raises a number of issues and no doubt will be something their unions will be looking into. It may also raise issues for HSRs. 

Supply of the Pfizer vaccine is still a real issue with greater supplies not expected for several months. However, On 24 June 2021 the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), part of the Department of Health, granted provisional determination to Moderna Australia Pty Ltd in relation to the COVID-19 Vaccine, Elasomeran. This is the first step to getting registration. The Moderna vaccine is, like the Pfizer vaccine, an mRNA vaccine, and if approved, a complete course of the Moderna vaccine is likely to be two doses given 28 days apart. The federal government has secured 25 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, 10 million this year.  Read more: TGA Media release

And in further news: Big banks and mining companies will be among the businesses asked to vaccinate staff as new COVID-19 vaccine taskforce commander Lieutenant-General John Frewen attempts to reshape the ailing rollout. Australia is last in the OECD when it comes to the proportion of the population that is fully vaccinated (less than 5 per cent), and the new plan has the support of the Business Council of Australia.

There is an interesting article in The Guardian - Vaccine rollout tracker which has information on dose numbers, comparisons between Australia and the world, how we're tracking against the original and revised goals and much more.

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

Could I get some clarification around the current spacing ratio to comply with any COVID requirements (that is, the minimum square meterage a room needs to have per person using the room)? And were there any spacing requirements prior to COVID? I assume these will be back 'in force' when COVID restrictions are eased. Thank you!

With regards to the physical distancing requirements currently in place in Victoria, the employer needs to check with this Victorian government website and ensure that the workplace COVID Safe plan is in place – as the HSR you need to be involved, consulted and so on. It needs to be checked regularly, as restrictions have been changing weekly.

Currently these are the requirements for workplaces in Metropolitan Melbourne:

  • A density quotient of 1 person per 4sqm in shared and public areas applies.
  • Everyone must wear a face mask indoors unless they are working in an office by themselves.
  • There are also upper limits: For office-based work premises, a maximum staff capacity of 75 per cent or 30 workers onsite, whichever is greater.

Under ‘normal circumstances’ there is the general duty of the employer to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.. but in terms of actual space, the employer needs to look at the Compliance Code and, if an office sort of environment, the WorkSafe publication Officewise.

The Code tells employers the sorts of space they need to provide around workstations, width of corridors, space in dining areas, change rooms, etc. Officewise gives advice on office space. For more information, go to these pages on the website: Office space (Also has link to Officewise); Dining facilities (has link to the compliance code where you can check things like corridors, and so on); and Changerooms, etc.  

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

HSRs: Why we need regulations on Psychological Health

In the coming weeks, Victorian Health and Safety Representatives are expecting to see the results of a long-running campaign for the introduction of psychological health regulations. As elected Health and Safety reps (HSRs) will know, regulations around a hazard make it much easier to exercise HSR powers, and WorkSafe is much more likely to take action. 

There is a real need for change in this area. HSRs across all industries report that psychological health is not an obligation their employer takes seriously. Take a look at this article in the last edition of the VTHC's Megaphone e-journal to hear what some HSRs have to say. 

PLEASE: share your OHS experiences 

In the past few editions we have asked HSRs to fill out the Australian Unions survey on your experience of health and safety in the workplace. With apologies, it appears as though there was a problem with the link. So if you tried before but were unable to get onto the survey page, please try again!

While the survey is a little long, 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 2021. To complete the survey, please copy and paste the following link into your browser: 

surveyv8.humanlistening.com/survey/7af4cd66-fb32-42aa-819f-1531b3592fcb?resetsession=true&p=1 

Thank you very much! 

Asbestos news

Tasmania: Union angered by asbestos risks in prison 
The Tasmanian branch of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has said that hundreds of prisoners and staff could have been exposed to asbestos fibres from asbestos debris in a damaged roof at Risdon Prison. The union believes the Tasmanian Prison Service is downplaying the risk.

Director of Prisons Ian Thomas wrote to staff this month to inform them of the discovery of asbestos in the roof of one of the buildings in the Ron Barwick section of the prison. “I confirm that the asbestos work area is restricted to the roof area. The asbestos is very wet, making it as safe as it can be,” Mr Thomas wrote. The damage to the roof is understood to have been cause by cockatoos in the time since the roof was last inspected six months ago.

CPSU general secretary Thirza White said her members had noted the presence of debris from the damaged roof for months. “We are extremely concerned that correctional officers, prison staff and inmates have been exposed to asbestos contamination,” she said. “It’s not OK for the Prison Service to downplay the risks and require staff, worried about their own  health or the risk that they may have contaminated family with deadly asbestos fibres, to conduct their own research to understand the risk. Is it any wonder the Custodial Inspector is reporting correctional officers are resigning en masse, resulting in inmates being denied their basic right to out-of-cell time, when prison management has such disregard for their health and safety.”

The Mercury reports that it has seen other prison service emails which acknowledge the presence of debris on the prison oval, in garden beds near where inmates shower, in a courtyard used by staff for training and on to other grassed areas within the old prison walls. Source: The Mercury

New Mesothelioma Immunotherapy Drugs Listed on PBS 
The Asbestos Disease Support Society welcomes the listing of immunotherapy drugs on PBS from July 1, 2021. It says that Australians living with inoperable malignant mesothelioma will now be able to access Australia’s first reimbursed immunotherapy for this cancer with the listing of two immunotherapy drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

ADSS General Manager, Trevor Torrens said, “PBS listing for these new immunotherapies represents a significant milestone for Australians living with mesothelioma due to the substantial cost reduction of these drugs to patients for the treatment of this disease. It’s not a cure but a great step in the right direction.”

Between 700-800 Australians are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with  mesothelioma due to workplace exposure to asbestos. But non-occupational exposure can occur through contact with asbestos contaminated clothing or during renovations, also known as “third wave” exposure.

Previously, these drugs cost $100,000 - after tomorrow, they will be just $41 - a huge relief for those with mesothelioma.
Read more: ADSS media release (on aap); ABC News online

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

International news

Europe: Commission urges action over fall in labour inspections

The European Commission this week joined trade unions in calling on member states to address health and safety failures putting workers’ lives at risk – but stopped short of taking real action themselves. 

The ETUC published research in April this year showing that the number of workplace safety inspections has fallen by a fifth since 2010, with cuts in inspections of up to 55 per cent in 17 member states. In its newly published health and safety strategy, the European Commission calls on member states to “address the downward trend in the number of labour inspections in some Member States by strengthening field inspections.”

They have also finally called on member states to classify COVID-19 as an occupational disease, more than a year after trade unions called for workers to be given extra protection against the virus. It is part of a welcome move towards a ‘vision zero’ approach to work related deaths, which is much needed at a time when:

- Many of the over 1 million victims of COVID-19 in Europe contracted the disease at work

- More than 100,000 people still die every year from work-related cancer

- The number of fatal workplace accidents is increasing

The collapse of a building in Antwerp last week killing five posted construction workers, and seriously injuring another nine, shows once again that stronger occupational health and safety requirements are needed. Read more: ETUC media release

International: Campaign to ratify ILO Convention 190

On 25 June, the ILO’s robust and landmark instrument, the Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), came into force two years after its adoption. To date, Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Namibia, Somalia and Uruguay have ratified it, and the ITUC is calling on all countries to follow suit.

To mark the anniversary, ITUC affiliates across the world are mobilising to press for ratification and for effective implementation of the Convention and its accompanying ILO Recommendation 206. 

On the 25th, the ITUC and the Global Unions partners organised a special online event to launch a C190 toolkit, which will be available in seven languages. The ILO has also launched a global campaign to promote ratification and implementation.

It says governments must ratify C190 as a matter of urgency. Violence and harassment are deeply entrenched in today’s world of work, affecting millions of workers – particularly women and also racialised, indigenous, migrant, LGBTQI+, disabled workers and other groups of workers who experience discrimination and inequality. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a horrific surge in cases of domestic violence across the world, a surge in gender-based violence and harassment – particularly against frontline workers – and a rise in cyberbullying. Informal economy workers have experienced a dramatic increase in violence and harassment, as physical force has often been used against them when measures to restrict movement have been imposed. In the absence of social protection, these workers are forced to continue to work in order to survive.
Read more: ITUC media release

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