Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update   

The extreme transmissibility of the Delta variant of the COVID virus, the numbers being stuck at around 20 and some frightful breaches of the COVIDSafe orders led to Premier Dan Andrews this week announcing that Melbourne's hard lockdown would be extended to September 2, and some further restrictions imposed. These include the re-introduction of a curfew - this time from 9.00pm to 5.00am, limits to numbers of workers on construction sites, and a re-introduction of work permits. For more details, go to this page:  Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

The number of new infections announced in Victoria on Wednesday was 24, six of which had been out in the community for at least part of the time they were infectious. The issue of most concern to the Chief Health Officer are the so-called 'mystery cases' where contact tracers have been unable to identify where they contracted the virus. 

The current number of active cases in Victoria is 246 (12 are in hospital, two in ICU). It's very important to keep up with the listed exposure sites, of which there are now more than 530 and comply with the directions (eg to isolate and get tested). Go to this Victorian government page.    

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW: Greater Sydney is now in its eighth week of lockdown - with lockdown having been declared for the entire state last weekend. There were 633 new community infections in the state in the 24 hours before Wednesday morning. Of these, at least 92 were in the community for part or all of their infectious period - but the isolation status of 447 was still under investigation when we posted. 

    Unfortunately, there have been eleven more COVID-related deaths in NSW the past week. There have now been 60 deaths related to the current outbreak which began on July 16.  

  • ACT: the territory went into lockdown last week - this was also extended for a further two weeks to September 2, after 19 new cases were identified on Monday. 

  • Northern Territory: Greater Darwin and Katherine were put under a snap 72-hour lockdown at midday on Monday August 16. 

As at August 18, Australia has had a total of 40,782 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 967 deaths. There are some epidemiologists who are now saying we are in the third wave.  

Worldwide: there had been 209,357,040 infections (last week it was 204,722,211). This is over 4.6 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,394,364 - the upward trend has finally slowed. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

Vaccinations update 

According to the ABC Vaccine tracker 26.88 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (48.7 per cent have received one dose). This is a great improvement - but according to The Guardian we are still ranked 35/38 for OECD countries - we must improve. 

In the past week it appears large numbers of Victorians over the age of 18 have booked and been given the first AstraZeneca jab. This is great news. 

Meanwhile the issue of employers wanting to make vaccinations mandatory for their employees has been bubbling away in the media. Companies claim mandatory vaccinations are necessary in order to keep their staff safe and their businesses open. This week federal Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash, called a meeting of employer associations and unions on the vaccine rollout and workplaces. A dozen major employer groups and unions were due to participate in the forum and hear from three officials that help regulate workplace vaccinations: the Fair Work Ombudsman, Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner and chief executive of Safe Work Australia. 

But the media was reporting that the unions will use the meeting to push another topic: universal paid vaccination leave so workers, including casuals, don’t have to lose income or use up other time off to get vaccinated. According to research done by the ACTU, Australia's peak union council, about 1.6 million workers have already been given some form of vaccination leave by their employers, including major brands such as Woolworths and Westpac.

The ACTU’s paid leave proposal, however, goes further than what many of those companies have provided. All workers, regardless of income, would get two days paid leave per dose to cover vaccination appointments and any immediate side effects. Sources: ACTU media release; and joint statement with the BCA on mandatory vaccinations; Sydney Morning Herald. The Fair Work Ombudsman has recently updated information on the website including: COVID-19 vaccinations: workplace rights and obligations; Pay, leave and stand downs and more.

ACTU petition for paid vaccination leave - we need your support!

The message is clear: Australia needs to be vaccinated as soon as possible. But the country is running almost last in the race to get it done. 

The ACTU says the biggest barriers to vaccination continue to be the government’s failure to secure adequate supply and a struggling roll out system that is still beyond the reach of too many Australians. Workers currently have no right to be absent from work to get their vaccinations. In fact, over two million casual workers currently face the real risk that they will miss out on shifts and lose pay if they have to get vaccinated and recover outside working hours. 

As reported above, the ACTU is campaigning for a better deal for workers. The country needs a rollout program that does not rely on workers to try to get the jab on weekends or during lunch breaks. Too many workers are in low paid jobs where they cannot afford to lose shifts and pay to get the jab - they should not have to choose between paying the bills and being vaccinated.

The ACTU is calling on the Morrison Government to give workers time off to get their jab and recover from the side effects, without being left out of pocket. Securing a universal right for workers to access paid leave is essential for individuals and the community as a whole, which will be less vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks through the exposure of unvaccinated workers.

Last year, unions campaigned for and won paid-pandemic leave and JobKeeper. This year, together, we can win this too – but we need everyone to work together. 

Please sign the ACTU's petition demanding nationwide vaccination leave - and ask all your work colleagues and family to do so as well.

Ask Renata  

While our service is designed to provide information and advice primarily to HSRs and workers, we often get queries from managers and employers, such as the following one, which came in this week: 

Good morning, Renata  

I would like some information on solutions and considerations around staff working after hours and then having to leave the building and access their car or public transport. This is after 6.30pm till early hours of the morning and on public holidays/weekends. How do we address these issues for our staff?

You are right to have concerns about your staff's safety. Both the employer and the person who manages or controls the workplace both have duties in relation to this under the OHS Act.

The employer: Under s21, the employer has a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing 'safe systems of work' - such as the hours worked, the start and finish times and so on.

In order to fulfill this duty, the employer must identify, and then either eliminate (or minimise) any hazards and risks to workers - so far as is reasonably practicable. Further, the employer has a duty under s35 of the Act to consult with elected HSRs (or with employees directly affected if there are no HSRs) when identifying hazards and risks and also when making decisions about what controls they will implement.

The Person who manages/controls a workplace: Under s26, the person who has, to any extent, the management or control of a workplace must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it, are safe and without risks to health.  

In other words, taking the above into account, there is a duty to staff members in terms of their safety when leaving work - particularly in the dark, or in the early hours of the morning. In addition to the duties under the OHS Act, there have also been cases where employees who have been attacked and suffered serious injuries have sued their employer for negligence - the court then considering whether this risk had been 'foreseeable' and therefore the employer should have taken appropriate measures. 
What I recommend is a meeting with the elected HSRs (assuming you have them) or a representative group of employees, if you don't, to go through the issues, the hazards/risks and what could be implemented to address these and eliminate/minimise the risks. If your organisation has a health and safety unit/team or officer, they should assist with options and ideas. 
I cannot tell you what these may be as I am not familiar with your situation - the building/workplace; the work; the possible risks; and so on.
However, these are some things to consider:
  1. develop specific procedures and provide training
  2. avoid staff working late/very early/on their own whenever possible - reschedule any work that can be done during 'standard' hours 
  3. improve lighting and security at exits and in car parks
  4. provide staff with a car park at or near the office - this should be possible on public holidays/weekends when not all staff will be in attendance 
  5. arrange for security staff to accompany staff members to their cars (this was done for catering staff at the Melbourne Open who finished their shifts very late depending on the length of tennis matches)
  6. organise a car to drive staff to their cars
  7. issue taxi vouchers for taxis for staff finishing very late to avoid public transport (some awards/agreements had this provision in the past)
  8. organise/facilitate car pools 
  9. provide personal duress alarms
  10. you/your staff will probably have more ideas! 

I have not found anything very useful on the internet - but there may be general advice 'out there'. 

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

Apply now if you would like to join the VTHC OHS Unit

A reminder that there are a number of new roles now being advertised for positions in the VTHC's OHS Team - joining the COVID-safe project.

The jobs are for 10 months (approx – until 30 June 2022) and will be working on:

  • Outreach to workers and workplaces about the importance of QR codes and other COVID safe measures
  • Finding out about the barriers to COVID safe compliance
  • Tackling vaccine hesitancy if found

The closing date for applications for the Level 3 Outreach Workers and the Level 6 - Senior organiser is COB August 20. 

ABCC Spent Half a Million Dollars Fighting CFMEU on Women's Bathrooms

In a revelation that was shocking even for us at the VTHC, it was disclosed last week by Attorney General Michaelia Cash that the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) spent $432,469 on legal fees in its attempt to fine the CFMEU for stopping work on a Brighton construction site in 2015.

The union stopped work on the site due to a failure to provide bathroom facilities for women, with one woman on-site reporting that she had been forced to use the men's bathrooms.

The news comes off the back of the ABCC's announcement of their intent to bar unions from crowdfunding money for fines on workers and union officials. Source: Megaphone Journal (subscribe to this great free ejournal)

Asbestos news

National: The Block contestants' tragic story  
Those who follow the popular TV reality show 'The Block' will be aware that the current season features twin brothers Josh and Luke whose father contracted peritoneal mesothelioma after having ingested asbestos. They hope to use their time on this show to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure. 

ASEA, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, has been working with the producers of The Block to provide them with awareness messaging and information to use as part of their production when asbestos issues arise. 
Check out this clip of the show: Josh and Luke forced to stop work when asbestos is found on site;  

India: huge company to abandon asbestos 
HIL Ltd., formerly Hindustan Asbestos, has announced its intention to abandon toxic asbestos technology as it transitions to “an integrated green building materials company.” In a press interview, CEO Dhirup Roy Choudhary said that: “The Asbestos business, which was contributing 80 per cent of revenue has now come down to 30 per cent, with rest of the 70 per cent from non-asbestos business.” The company has 22 factories in India, and 2 in Germany and Austria; it plays a leading role in India’s building products’ sector, and it can be certain that where HIL goes, others will follow.
Read more: HIL eyes $1b revenues as it transforms to an integrated green building materials company. Source: IBAS

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

International union news

Iceland: Unionists win shorter working week

The working world looked on in excitement recently as Iceland secured a shorter working week for a significant portion of its workforce. Workers saw a reduction of their working hours from 40 to 36, which has seen vast improvements in health and productivity, even for what might be seen as a small change.  

Is this a conversation we’re ready to have in Australia? A closer look at Iceland’s journey might yield some lessons about the path to get there, not just the scenic destination. Read more: How Icelandic Unionists Won a Shorter Work Week Megaphone Journal 

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