Union News

Coronavirus Update

Victoria: Over the past week we have seen numbers of new community infections in Victoria increase (and over the past days decrease!) but also extend out of Metropolitan Melbourne into regional Victoria. Numbers have gone well beyond the initial 20 something. The number of new infections reported on Wednesday was 45 - which is down from the 50 on Tuesday and the 71 on Monday - so hopefully we are getting on top of the current outbreak. 

The number of active cases in Victoria on August 25: 538 (34 in hospital, 9 in ICU, 7 of whom require ventilation). By this week more than 770 exposure sites had been listed. It is crucial to keep up with these, and comply with the directions (eg to isolate and get tested). Go to this Victorian government page.    

Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said he was shocked to witness large groups gathering last weekend “like one big party”, although he said he understood it was because people are fatigued. But University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman warns this fatigue could be dangerous: “Events like the street pub crawl in Melbourne create exactly the kind of situations where you get super-spreading events.”

Of great concern have been the public protests against lockdowns and other public health measures in Melbourne, Sydney and elsewhere. The protesters, many of whom were not wearing masks or maintaining appropriate physical distancing, are not only against the health measures, but are also anti testing, anti vaccination - and some deny that COVID is real. They are putting not only themselves, but their families, their work colleagues, and the community at risk. 

The Melbourne protesters claimed to be concerned about the suffering caused to ordinary people by the public health measures to contain the virus. But a journalist noted that among all the home-made placards and chanting, there were no demands for social support for affected workers or the unemployed; no demands for more resources for the health system; no chants or placards against big business or the rich. Read more: Right-Wing mayhem in Melbourne

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW: Greater Sydney is now in its ninth week of lockdown - with the 'hotspot' LGAs with extra restrictions such as a curfew. Numbers last weekend reached over 800 infections daily, and although the numbers dipped, there were 919 new community infections in the state in the 24 hours before Wednesday morning. Of these the state confirmed that 106 cases were in isolation during their infectious period, 18 were in isolation for part of it, 37 cases were infectious in the community, and the isolation status of 758 cases was under investigation. 

    Unfortunately, there have been sixteen more COVID-related deaths in NSW the past week, including that of a 30 year-old woman. There have now been 76 deaths related to the current outbreak, and 14,673 locally acquired cases reported since July 16.  There were currently 645 COVID-19 cases in hospital, with 113 people in intensive care, 40 of whom require ventilation.

  • ACT: the territory went into lockdown to September 2, there were 167 active cases.

  • Both Queensland and WA have further restricted entry from NSW, Victoria and the ACT. 

As at August 25, Australia has had a total of 46,726 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 985 deaths. 

Worldwide: there had been 213,948,124 infections (last week it was 209,357,040). This is again almost 4.6 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,463,919 - the trend has remained at just under -0.1 per cent. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

New ACTU factsheet - Ventilation 

Australian Unions have released a new, updated factsheet about workplace ventilation and COVID-19, developed with the assistance of infectious diseases experts. 

Knowledge on the details of exactly how COVID-19 is spread between individuals has continued to improve and workplaces need to take action to prevent further transmission. There is now much clearer evidence that to stop the spread of the virus, fresh air and good ventilation – especially in workplaces – are essential.  Access the new ACTU guidance, Ventilation 

Vaccinations: VTHC resource and update

Have vaccines been coming up a lot in conversations with your workmates? Trades Hall has developed a handy guide to help you navigate challenging conversations about vaccines and help address some of your workmates' concerns. It's free and fabulous! Get your copy of Talkin' 'bout My Vaccination   

According to the ABC Vaccine tracker 30.88 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (53.56 per cent have received one dose). This is a great improvement - we are slowly creeping up the OECD ranking: we are now 34/38, so there is still a long way to go. 

We reported last week that federal Industrial Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash, held a 'roundtable' of stakeholders to address concerns about how they can and should approach COVID-19 vaccination policies in the workplace and to support the vaccine rollout more broadly. It appears that no major agreements came out of the meeting which was attended by the ACTU and a number of unions; a large number of employer associations; the Attorney-General’s Department; Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO); Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner; and Safe Work Australia.

"It was a positive meeting and really pleasing to see employer groups and unions come together in the spirit of co-operation," Minister Cash said. "It was clear from the discussion that participants are united in the goal to have as many Australians as possible vaccinated against COVID-19." Read more: Roundtable media release

ACTU petition for paid vaccination leave - have you signed yet?

The message remains: for us to be able to get back to any sort of normal, Australians need to be vaccinated as soon as possible.  If you still haven't signed the ACTU petition for paid vaccination leave, do so now. 

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, and casual workers miss out on shifts and lose pay if they have to get vaccinated and recover outside working hours. 

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. The Victorian government has introduced a level of paid leave for government sector employees and we hope to see this rolled out across the state. 

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  


we are all working from home at the moment due to the lockdown. One of my DWG members went into work on the weekend - with approval - to get some things she needed to be able to do her work. While onsite she was verbally abused by some youth and too scared to leave the site. She called the police, but they didn't attend. Eventually her husband came to pick her up. Her manager has told her it cannot be logged on the workplace incident report system as it was a weekend and not during work hours. My belief is it is still a workplace issue not just a police issue. Can I get some clarification please?

I have no doubt that this incident needs to be logged on to the company's incident report system. The staff member  attended the site for work purposes, the attendance, although on the weekend, was approved (I assume by her manager), and the incident was absolutely work-related.  Had something occurred, or even if now after the event, the staff member suffers some post incident stress, and considers putting in a WorkCover claim - then the test is always whether the incident was work-related.. I believe it passes this test. 

If her manager keeps insisting, then you need to go above their head - take the issue up with a more senior person within the organisation - with the OHS manager or with HR. 

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

Asbestos news

QLD: Union warns of asbestos-contaminated soil 
The Queensland branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) warns that 200 tonnes of material delivered to a school building site in Brisbane has been contaminated with asbestos. The union first detected the asbestos in 50 tonnes of landfill supplied by BMI Group to the Brisbane South State Secondary College site last week. It asked the contractor Broad, a subsidiary of CPB Contractors owned by CIMIC, to audit the site. Broad has apparently refused to do so.

"Broad/CPB have taken a cavalier 'she'll be right' approach - at an operating high school - to managing what is a deadly public health risk," CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham said in a statement. He has also called for BMI Group's quarries and recycling sites across southeast Queensland to be audited for asbestos. 

"We now know that at least 200 tonnes of material from BMI is contaminated with asbestos, and need to know exactly what other building jobs in SE Queensland this material has been delivered to by Martin Brothers and other subcontractors," Mr Ingham said. "We have a situation here where potentially dozens of building sites could be contaminated, while workers and the public remain unaware of the risk."

The union has asked workplace health and safety representatives at the landfill sites to check material. Source: Southern Highland News

WA: Petition for permanent memorials   
WA-based Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) has launched a petition to that state's Parliament for permanent memorials to be erected in Perth and the Pilbara to honour the thousands of lives lost to asbestos disease. 

It also wants the memorials to act as a deterrent to tourists who continue to visit Wittenoom and its spectacular gorges.

ADSA chief operating officer Melita Markey has raised the issue with Tourism, Culture and Arts Minister David Templeman and most recently with Stephen Dawson MLC, and has suggested the memorials be incorporated into the Wittenoom Closure Bill which will be introduced into State Parliament later this year. Wittenoom, a blue asbestos mining town in the Pilbara region, which despite health warnings as early as 1948, continued to operate until 1966, killing thousands of workers, their families and town visitors. This includes State Minister Ernie Bridge MLA who died from mesothelioma which he contracted during his time dealing with the town’s closure. Sign the ADSA petition. Read more: Asbestos Diseases Society campaigns for memorials for asbestos victims 

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

International union news

UK: Unions demand action on ventilation in schools

Education unions have said the UK government must take firm action to improve ventilation in schools to reduce further Covid disruption. In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, the unions - NEU, Unison, NASUWT, ASCL, NAHT, GMB and Unite – say proper measures to increase airflow in time for the start of the next academic year will make a difference to health and limit the damage to learning for pupils. Their 17 August letter states “the benefits of ventilation in the control of airborne diseases are already well understood and accepted”. They point to carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors – which can provide an indication of the effectiveness of ventilation in a room – and micro (HEPA) filters for removing harmful particles as measures that will make a significant difference and should be properly funded. The joint letter concludes with a “call for urgent action by the DfE to invest in ventilation measures in our schools, including but not limited to the provision of CO2 monitors to monitor air quality and other measures, including where appropriate HEPA filters, which can help slow the spread of such diseases.” Read more: NEU news release. NASUWT news release. Unite news release. Morning Star. Source: Risks 1010


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