Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  (as at July 14)

Unfortunately there have been five community cases found in Victoria, originating from NSW. Nevertheless, apart from a number of exposure sites now being listed, and people identified as contacts being required to self-isolate for 14 days and get tested, the restrictions have not changed. The current restrictions:

  • mandated wearing of masks indoors and in public facing situations (such as shops and supermarkets, public transport), but no longer in schools or in workplaces (if there is no interaction with the public)
  • checking in with QR codes
  • physical distancing and space quotients (1 person per 2 metres square)
  • maximum numbers/percentages have increased for venues, gatherings and at workplaces 
  • The number of visitors to the home per day remains at 15.

The removal of the requirement for masks to be worn in many workplaces will encourage more workers to return to work and to Melbourne’s CBD.  Go to these pages for updated information on the current numbers, restrictions and to check exposure sites go to the Victorian government page and our page Coronavirus the Victorian situation

NSW: Unfortunately there have been two COVID-related deaths in the past week. A 90 year old woman, who had not been vaccinated, died after contracting COVID from a family member. This is the first death in Australia in 2021. The second death was that of a 70 year old man. 122 local cases were recorded on Monday, 89 Tuesday. and 97 announced today.  NSW's Premier, Gladys Berejiklian today announced that the Greater Sydney's lockdown has been extended by at least a further two weeks to July 30. To date there are have been 785 locally acquired cases in NSW in this latest outbreak. 

The NSW government has announced that essential workers in certain NSW LGAs will have to get tested every three days - and this has already led to long queues and workers having to wait for hours, despite a late announcement that the requirement will not begin until Saturday. This has raised many questions, including: who exactly are 'essential workers'? as many types of shops remain open; do they need to isolate until they get their results?; who pays for the many hours spent queuing up? (no-one probably!).

Australia has had a total of 31,429 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 912 deaths.

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 188,616,093 (last week it was 185,342,305). This is almost 3.3 million new infections in the past week - the upward trend has continued, with a disturbing increase of 14 per cent.  The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,065,804 - the trend is up by 1 per cent - expected in light of the increased trend in case numbers.  (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website)

Vaccinations update

We have now reached 9.3 per cent of Australia’s population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (17.6 per cent have received one dose), increasing steadily but still a long way short of achieving the necessary 70-80 per cent coverage needed to ensure a level of 'herd immunity'.  We are still ranked 38/38 for OECD countries. For those who have not yet had a look, check out the Vaccine rollout tracker in The Guardian, 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.

The good news is that the government announced that supplies of the Pfizer vaccine are now expected to arrive earlier than first anticipated - no doubt due to the increased public pressure and scrutiny.  The bad news is that it appears that a 72 year old woman who developed the rare clotting condition associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine died during the week. 

This week the federal government also launched a new advertising campaign - Arm Yourself - to encourage people to get vaccinated. It has already been described as lacking in both information and emotional appeal. A second NSW-specific campaign, showing a young woman in hospital gasping for air has attracted criticism for at least two reasons. Firstly: currently demand for the Pfizer vaccine, recommended for those under 60, by far outstrips supply. Secondly: the message could be seen as unethical, as under our health system, no-one would be left alone in hospital gasping for breathRead more:  Why the federal government’s COVID-19 fear appeal to Sydney residents won’t work The Conversation

TWU calls for vaccines for air and ground crew

On the ABC on Wednesday morning, Michael Kaine, National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union revealed that a joint TWU and Virgin Independent Pilots Association survey has found that only a third of frontline airport and airline workers are fully vaccinated, despite being at high risk of catching and spreading the COVID-19 virus.

The survey of nearly 800 cabin crew, pilots, cleaners, baggage handlers and ground workers across airlines and aviation companies shows only around one third of aviation workers have had both vaccine shots while 22 per cent have had one shot. This is despite recent outbreaks in Sydney and across Australia having been linked to flight crew and passengers, causing snap lockdowns and sending hundreds of workers and passengers into 14-day quarantine.

Many workers say they have not been vaccinated because of a lack of vaccine time slot availability and because it is difficult organising vaccination ahead of roster changes with the potential of losing work. Many in the sector are casual workers. A majority of those vaccinated organised the shot themselves (70 per cent), with just 30 per cent assisted by their employer.

Michael Kaine said that Scott Morrison had not responded to two written requests from the union for aviation workers to be added to vaccine priority lists and for rapid pre-flight testing to be introduced at airports. He said, "We have called on the Federal Government to put in place a national plan on aviation when the crisis hit which would have looked at vaccination for aviation workers. This national plan never happened and today we are paying the price.” 
Source: TWU media release Listen to the interview on the ABC here.   

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

Can you tell me how often an office kitchen and toilets should be cleaned? Also, is it reasonable that the office receptionist be tasked to clean them?

Under section 21 of the Act the employer has a duty to provide ‘adequate facilities’ for employees – and also to maintain the workplace in a condition that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health (see: Duties of employers) That’s all it says in legislation – however then there is the Workplace amenities and work environment, 2008 Compliance Code which sets out what employers need to do in order to comply with their legal duties.  

What it says regarding cleaning and how often:

  • Workplace amenities need to be maintained so that they continue to meet the needs of employees. This means they need to be hygienic, safe, secure and in serviceable condition.

  • Workplaces and amenities need to be cleaned regularly, usually daily. The cleaning schedule needs to take into account the requirement for hygienic maintenance of amenities such as dining areas, toilets, hand basins and showers. These amenities need to be cleaned more frequently, taking into account shift work, the type of work performed and the number of employees.

  • Employers need to periodically review their amenities and facilities, consulting the affected employees and HSRs. Reviews also need to be done when:

    • work practices, equipment or workplaces are modified

    • more employees are engaged

    • new work processes are introduced

    • an incident impacting on the health, safety or welfare of employees occurs, or

    • requested by an HSR.

So, it is not specific – it doesn’t set out ‘how often’ as this will depend on lots of factors. It should be noted though that in the current situation with COVID in our communities, the OHS regulators have recommended that cleaning of common areas be undertaken more often. 

The code also does not address who does the cleaning. At the moment under common law, an employer can ask an employee to do any work that is legal. However, the office receptionist could look at their employment contract/job description and if cleaning is not listed as a responsibility, this could be raised with the employer.

There are OHS reasons too: workers other than dedicated cleaners would not be adequately dressed for the job, nor perhaps adequately trained (cleaners need to have appropriate PPE, training in the chemicals they use, and so on). The issue should be raised by the HSR.

Note, however, that we are expecting a new Code soon (it is currently at the last stage of review) and in that code it recommends that cleaning needs to be carried out by workers employed to do this work.

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

Workers Compensation questions? Now you can get an expert to respond! 

Subscribers of SafetyNet and those who go to the OHSReps@Work website, will be familiar with our 'Ask Renata' service. Often people send in queries which are not strictly OHS, but more on workers compensation issues. Renata tries to provide some information, but often has to go to a Workers' Comp expert for more advice or to verify the answer. Now those with queries in this area can get the expert advice directly from an expert at Union Assist by submitting their inquiry through the VTHC's new service on the Injured Workers Support Network website.  Try it out now, and be confident you'll get up to date advice. 

Asbestos news

Victoria: WorkSafe cracks down on asbestos in Geelong area 
WorkSafe is continuing to crackdown on asbestos-removal compliance to ensure the dangerous material is properly removed and disposed of. The authority received 9832 compliance notifications from Geelong licensed asbestos removalists from January 2016 to May 31 this year. It also received 87 inquiries relating to asbestos-removal works across Greater Geelong over the same period. Inspectors made 384 asbestos compliance visits across the region during this period and issued 71 notices at 48 sites. WorkSafe commenced two prosecutions. 

“WorkSafe is notified of asbestos removal from hundreds of work sites in the City of Greater Geelong each year,” a spokesperson said. “Where the strict requirements around the removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials are not adhered to, WorkSafe can and will take action.” 
Source: Geelong Advertiser

UK: BBC accepts liability for musician's death due to mesothelioma 
On April 8, 2021 the day of the death of musician Christopher Larkin, his former employer – the BBC – admitted liability. An inquest into his death ruled that Mr. Larkin had contracted the cancer mesothelioma due to “exposure to asbestos when he worked for the BBC from 1966 to 1997.” For decades, this member of the BBC orchestra had rehearsed and played at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in West London which were, according to corporate documents, riddled with asbestos. Mr. Larkin’s widow and the family of another member of the orchestra, violinist Edwin Dodd, are suing the corporation over the demise of their loved ones. Read more: Musician’s widow sues BBC over his exposure to asbestos in studio. The Guardian

Italy: Sad day for justice
Late in the evening of July 9, 2021, Criminal Section IV of the Italian Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) confirmed a 2019 verdict of the Milan Court of Appeal acquitting former executives of the manslaughter of 15 employees who had died from asbestos cancer caused by toxic exposures at an Alfa Romeo factory in the municipality of Arese in the Milan Metropolitan area. The defendants had been accused over their failures to adopt precautionary protocols between 1974 and 1996 which would have prevented toxic exposures of members of the workforce.
Read more: Amianto all’Alfa di Arese Tutti assolti [Asbestos (exposures) at Arese Alfa (factory) – All acquitted]. Il Giorno Milano

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

International news

England: COVID protections to be axed  
Boris Johnson has confirmed that from 19 July he plans to scrap most of the COVID laws in England, including enforcing masks and social distancing, or working from home. Face coverings will no longer be legally required in shops, schools, hospitality, or on public transport although guidance will be in place to suggest where people might choose to wear them, Johnson said at a 5 July Downing Street press conference. The public would instead be able to make their “own informed decisions,” the prime minister said: “If we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer, and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves. 'when will be able to return to normal?'” But he warned cases were predicted to rise to 50,000 a day before the restrictions are lifted, then continue upwards, and that hospital admissions would also rise and “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID.” Responding to Mr Johnson's announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said “lifting all protections in one go, when the infection rate is going up, is reckless.” Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We’re not out of the woods, we want to see the lockdown end but we need lifesaving mitigation in place. We still need sick pay, local contact tracing, continued mask wearing, ventilation and support for children to prevent serious illness.”

The peak union council, the TUC, and many unions have condemned the plan. The TUC said the wholesale removal of COVID safety rules in England will leave workers at risk, unless the government agrees effective guidance with unions. It has also called for decent sick pay entitlements for all workers, and extended rights to flexible working.  Read more: 10 Downing Street news release and prime minister Boris Johnson’s 5 July 2021 statement. TUC news release For more news on union reactions: Risks 1004

Bangladesh: deadly fire kills at over 50 workers 
At least 53 workers have been killed and many more have been injured in a fire that raged through the Hashem Foods factory in Rupganj, near Dhaka. However, a large number of children were illegally employed as child labour in the factory, and so the actual number of deaths and injuries remains unknown. Relatives are still searching for missing workers, mostly women and girls.

  • Fueled by the highly flammable chemicals and plastics stored in the factory, the fire which started on July 8, burned for two days. Initial investigations confirm that doors on at least two floors were locked, the main gate was locked, and children as young as 11 years old were working in the factory. In a desperate attempt to escape the flames, some workers were forced to jump from the upper floors of the six-storey building
  • Hashem Foods, part of the Sajeeb Group of companies, produces branded goods including Oreo, Tang and Cadbury Bournvita – brands which are owned by Mondelēz. However, the page on the company’s website confirming these relationships was taken down within hours of reports of the fire
  • IUF affiliates in Bangladesh responded rapidly to the disaster. They formed the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee and are calling for an independent investigation into the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights at the Hashem Foods factory as well all factories operated under Sajeeb Group and to take legal action against those responsible. It also demanded that the costs of all necessary medical treatment be met and compensation paid to the injured workers and the families of deceased workers
  • The IUF is calling on  global companies that have a business relationship with Hashem Foods to support demands for a full investigation into the fire, to commit to pay compensation, and to work with the IUF to find effective solutions to the long-running, widespread occupational health and safety issues in Bangladesh’s food factories

IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary, Hidayat Greenfield said, “This callous disregard for human life in food factories in Bangladesh has been going on for too long and must stop. Employers can ignore health and safety laws and disregard post-Rana Plaza measures because they can so easily suppress the right to freedom of association and create a climate of fear. Add extreme poverty to this fear and we have the appalling situation in food factories where children as young as 11 years old are exploited as child labour. Now these children, along with adult workers, have been killed as a direct result of the systematic repression of workers’ rights. It must stop!”. Source: IUF media release 

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