Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

The good news is that after an almost two week lockdown in Victoria, the government has ended it with some restrictions to remain in place. Victorians are once again able to leave their home, go shopping, go out to dinner and more. Space quotients and maximum numbers are in force, however, and visitors to the home are still now allowed. While some large sporting events, like the AFL, will take place, this will be without spectators. 

While the advice is still to work from home if we are able to, up to 25 per cent (or 10 workers, whichever is greater) are able to return to the workplace if necessary.

Wearing masks both indoors and outdoors (unless working alone) and checking in with QR codes remain mandatory. 

There are still a large number of exposure sites - so people need to check these regularly. 

The number of new infections announced in Victoria today, Wednesday, was 8 - none had been in community while infectious. The current number of active cases in Victoria is 205. Go to these pages for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions; and to check exposure sites: Victorian government page and our page Coronavirus the Victorian situation

NSW: There were 177 new infections in the state announced Wednesday - of these, at least 68 were in the community while infectious for part or all (46) of their infectious period. While there has not been an 'exponential' growth in cases, it is very concerning that the state still has a large number of cases in the community while infectious. 62 cases were still under investigation when SafetyNet went to print.  Unfortunately there have been more COVID-related deaths in the past week.  There have now been eleven deaths related to the current outbreak. 

Greater Sydney is now in its fifth week of lockdown, and on Tuesday the government announced that the lockdown would be extended another month. However, Sydneysiders are still able to go 10km from their homes for shopping or other purposes! And the wearing of masks outdoors is not mandated. 

As at July 28, Australia has had a total of 33,266 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 922 deaths.

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections stands at 195,980,203 (last week it was 192,260,989). This is over 3.7 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,192,978. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends)

Vaccinations update 

13.9 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (17.6 per cent have received one dose). The arguments about how it went wrong and how to fix it continue, but we are still well behind our current target. We are now ranked 36/38 for OECD countries. (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.)

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

If the company make changes to the layout without adequate consultation with HSRs, what would the next steps/course of action be?

This is not easy, as you've said 'without adequate consultation' - not 'without consultation'. The issue may be one of determining whether the consultation was 'real' and would satisfy the requirements of the Act. 

Section 35 of the Act not only requires the employer to consult on a range of issues - such as when proposing changes to the workplace - which may affect the health and safety of employees, but also how this must be done. The Act states (at s35(3)):

An employer who is required to consult with employees under subsection (1) must do so by—

(a)        sharing with the employees information about the matter on which the employer is required to consult; and  
(b)        giving the employees a reasonable opportunity to express their views about the matter; and  
(c)        taking into account those views.

So in looking at whether the consultation was genuine, think about the following questions. Did the employer:

  • consult or inform? 
  • consult when proposing the change? Or only afterwards?
  • share all the relevant information?
  • give HSRs and employees a chance to give their views, voice their concerns?
  • take these views into account? For example, was there adequate time given to consider these views? Were there any changes to the proposed actions as a result of the consutation?

I would suggest there are two things you need to do at this stage:

  1. organise a meeting with management to remind them of their duty to consult under s35 of the OHS Act - and what consultation means. Go through the problems with how the changes were made and how the consultation was inadequate.  See: Duty to Consult (and show the section in the Act to your employer) : 

    Discuss how to ensure that proper consultation happens in the future and alert them that if this doesn't occur, you will consider issuing a PIN. See: Resolution of Issues 

  2. With regard to the current (new) set up: consult with your DWG members and do an inspection to identify any problems/OHS issues the changes created. Document these, then alert your employer that you have a number of issues with the new layout that you are seeking to resolve - as per the page I referred you to above. Go through the issues, what the problems are and what changes you would like implemented - either in the same meeting or in a separate one. If you don't get anywhere, then you can issue one PIN or more (a different PIN is required for each issue) or call your union or WorkSafe to assist you.

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

VTHC Migrant Workers Centre Survey

Have you ever stayed on a visa in Australia? How has your visa impacted your life?

There are many problems with Australia’s migration system. Too often, workers, students, partners and family members are forced to go from visa to visa with limited work rights or healthcare, and very few pathways to permanent residence.

There is now an opportunity to change this: the Australian Government is currently reviewing Australia's migration programs and the Migrant Workers Centre is campaigning for more pathways to permanent residency and a fairer visa system.

The Centre has launched a research survey about the experiences and barriers faced by migrants in Australia. It is collecting responses from anyone who has ever stayed on a visa in Australia. The MWC wants to know how your visa impacts your work, housing and social life, and what challenges you face when applying for visas.

Responses will inform the MWC policy recommendations and most importantly, help drive its campaign for pathways to permanency. Responses will be confidential. Take the survey now 

Union blames Federal government for death of 200 truck drivers

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has blamed Federal Government inaction for the deaths of 200 truck drivers and warned that death rates will increase as pressures are exacerbated by extreme demand during the pandemic. Last Sunday, a truck driver was found dead following a truck fire, bringing the death toll for truckies to 200 in just over five years, while the overall number of people killed in truck crashes has reached almost 1,000 in the same time period. 

In April 2016, the Liberal National Party (LNP) Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, established by the previous Labor government, despite its own report concluding that truck crashes would be reduced by 28 per cent. A Federal Government report called for the tribunal’s abolition because of its “significant cost to the economy … with any potential safety benefits significantly outweighed by the associated costs”. The tribunal’s annual funding was $4 million. Research shows heavy vehicle crashes cost $4.64 billion a year.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine called for urgent government regulation to address the growing crisis in trucking. “Last year we heard the Prime Minister call truck drivers ‘heroes’, but when it comes to the alarming death rates, poor vaccination access, workplace outbreaks and truckies forced to queue for hours in the rain for COVID tests, he is completely silent.

“A truck driver killed every 10 days – that’s the legacy of the LNP Government’s reckless move to rip down a road safety watchdog to line the pockets of their mates at the top of trucking supply chains. For more than five years since, the Federal Government’s inaction has enabled wealthy retailers, manufacturers and oil companies to put a deadly squeeze on transport contracts, forcing operators and drivers to cut corners in safety to stay in business."

Earlier this year a major study by Monash University revealed chronic health problems in trucking, including over 80 per cent of drivers overweight or obese, one in five suffering from depression, over 70 per cent living with chronic pain and almost a third with multiple chronic health conditions. Source: TWU media release

Asbestos news

National asbestos map in development 
A national public database that could help predict which homes across the country contain asbestos is being developed by the federal government. The national residential asbestos heatmap, which will draw on pre-existing state and territory data along with artificial intelligence, is being produced by the Commonwealth's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to help forecast where building materials that contain asbestos are in residential properties.

The agency's chief executive Justine Ross has said the new technology aimed to help eliminate asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma. While the release of a federal government-run national map detailing the locations of properties with asbestos is not expected to be publicly available until early next year, Ms Prideaux, a former Mr Fluffy home owner, who is also part of the Mr Fluffy Homes Full Disclosure Group, has welcomed its announcement.

"We had been worried about not all the homes being known about, so for the government to publish a list such as this is fantastic," Ms Prideaux said. "People who had some form of exposure or asbestosis will now be able to trace their exposure back through the list, and this is absolutely a major step."

The national asbestos map will be made up of data from pre-existing registers from state, territory and federal governments and will also use artificial intelligence to predict which properties are at risk. The federal Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has said the map will focus on predicting the presence of asbestos anywhere in the home. Read more: ASEA media releaseThe Canberra Times 

Union issues warning on asbestos  
The national branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has posted a long article warning its members of the ongoing hazard of asbestos. The union warns that it's not possible to know something is asbestos just by looking at it: "he only way to be sure is to have a sample tested by a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accredited laboratory." The union emphasises that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and that exposure to asbestos fibres can lead to developing a fatal disease later in life. Read more:  Are you asbestos aware

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

International news

Global: Women far more likely to face workplace violence and harassment 
Women are more likely to face violence and harassment at work, a new poll commissioned by the global union confederation ITUC has found. Respondents in ten countries were asked “Do you think men or women are more likely to face violence and harassment, or are they equally likely?”. They came from nine professions: teaching, nursing, doctors, journalism, law, sport, politics, finance and banking, and building and construction.

One in three respondents thought women are more likely than men to face violence and harassment at work. Excluding building and construction, fewer than one in ten people thought that men are more likely to face violence and harassment across each of the industries. The 10 countries covered by the report were Australia, Brazil, France, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the USA. Over 12,000 people were interviewed for the report. 
Read more: ITUC news release and full report.

England: Back-to-work chaos  
New back-to-work safety guidelines for England will cause widespread confusion and lead to more infections, the TUC has said. Commenting after the government updated its ‘working safety during coronavirus’ guidance on 14 July, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want the economy to unlock as soon as possible. But these new back-to-work safety guidelines are a recipe for chaos and rising infections.”

Under the changes, stipulations on mask wearing, social distancing and work-from-home have all gone. O’Grady said the new guidelines were produced without proper consultation with either unions or employers and were only released two full working days before the restrictions were set to end on 19 July.

“Instead of providing clear and consistent guidance on how to keep staff safe at work, the government is abandoning workers and employers,” the TUC leader said. “As infection rates surge, every employer must by law carry out a thorough risk assessment and take action to keep their workers safe. But these inadequate guidelines will leave many employers with more questions than answers and worried about their liability if they get things wrong.” She added: “Wearing face coverings should remain a legal requirement on public transport and in shops – it is not a matter of ‘personal responsibility’, nor should it be left to individual employers to decide. Workplace safety rules must protect shop workers, bus drivers and others working in public settings.”  
Read more: 
TUC news release and blogWorking safely during coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance from Step 4, BEIS, updated 14 July 2021. Source: Risks 1006

England: Masks 'expected' to be worn in shops 
The UK government has said it “expects and recommends” shoppers wear face masks in England, but this is no longer required by law. Social distancing will also not be a requirement and people working from home can start to return to work, ministers said. The new guidance leaves firms to decide what if any protective measures to employ. Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw welcomed early indications that retailers are keeping important safety measures in place. Last week Sainsbury's and Tesco joined the bookseller, Waterstones, which had said customers should continue to wear masks to protect staff and other shoppers. The union is calling for the whole retail industry to follow suit, to avoid customer confusion, and for the shopping public to abide by the policies and respect shopworkers. 

The union's general secretary said, "Protection for retail workers through customers wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing should be backed up by the law and not left to individual choice.” Source: Risks 1006

For more news on the unfolding chaos in England following 'Freedom Day' go to the latest edition of Risks, number 1006. 

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