Union News

Want to share your experience of COVID Safety in the workplace? 

Now is your chance! The COVID-Safe team at the VTHC OHS Unit is running a short survey on Covid-safety measures in your workplace. By participating in the survey, you’re doing your part to help make Victorian workplaces COVID-Safe, and you’ll be entered into a prize draw. We encourage as many of you as possible to fill out the survey here

Do you have a specific question about Covid-Safety in your workplace? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your union, or submit an inquiry through the Covid-Safe Workplaces website.

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

Have you missed out on the VTHC's COVIDSafe training sessions? 

Due to high demand, we have added an additional six COVIDSafe training courses to run over the coming months. The sessions will run on the dates and times below and are capped at 40 participants per course due to their interactive workshop nature. 

These sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs and are highly popular so we encourage you to RSVP as quickly as you can to ensure that you have a space. Register by clicking on the date you'd like to attend. 

VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference - Thursday October 28

Calling all HSRs and Deputy HSRs: if you haven't yet registered for Health and Safety Month's biggest and best event - the VTHC's annual HSR Conference - please register online now! This year the theme is: HSR Super Sleuths: Exercising Your Powers To Uncover Hidden Hazards And Risks.  OF course, due to the ongoing lockdown, the event will once again be an online event.  

The conference will be a great opportunity for HSRs to learn lots and after hearing from a few very knowledgeable speakers, actively participate in smaller workshops and hone their skills. We will also look at how to use the new HSR powers under the OHS Act. 

The conference has WorkSafe approval as a training course under s69 of the OHS Act, meaning that as long as HSRs give their employer at least 14 days' notice, the employer must release them on paid leave to participate. While the employer has no legal obligation to release deputies on paid leave, ask anyway - you are welcome to attend, and many employers are happy to do so. Register here - from this page you can download the Approval letter from WorkSafe Victoria, and a Notice of attendance letter you can give/email to your employer.

When: Thursday October 28, 8.30am - 2.30pm
Where: Online
Cost: Free!
Open for all Victorian HSRs and Deputy HSRs 
Register here, now! (and then let your employer know!)

Coronavirus Update

If you haven't had a chance yet, check out this fabulous  ABC feature on the Delta variant. It's very informative and easy to understand. It goes a long way to explaining why we haven't had as much success controlling the outbreak this time, even with the strict lockdown.


The number of new infections has been over 1000 per day for about a week now, with yesterday's numbers, 1763 being the highest number of new infections in one day since the pandemic first hit Australia in 2020.  Today's number is 1402. While this seems to be bad news, there is some good news: although the number of new cases has been high, the number of people hospitalised, in ICU and on ventilators has not increased to the same extent as the numbers. This is because as the vaccination rates are increasing, fewer people are getting very ill. The rate of infections and the rate of hospitalisations has 'de-coupled'.  

The number of active cases in Victoria is now 14,410 - compared to last week at this time, when it was 9,890. There have now been 888 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - another 32 in the past week. 

Of the active cases, 525 are in hospital, 94 in ICU - 53 on ventilators.  Our vaccination rates: as of October 5, 53.57 per cent of us are fully vaccinated, and 82.94 per cent partially vaccinated (48.22 per cent and 76.89 per cent last week). 

Remember to check exposure sites, even though DHHS is now not listing them all. This means it's crucial to check in with the QR codes wherever you go, so that if there's an exposure at any place you have visited, you will receive text messages. Go to this Victorian government page to check the sites.

With Victoria's vaccination rate now over 80 per cent first dose, it is expected that next week there will be some announcements regarding a further easing of restrictions, in line with the Roadmap

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW:  The cases in the state have continued to decrease steadily, as expected, due to the high percentage of people now vaccinated. Today 594 local cases were reported, with unfortunately 10  further deaths. There have now been a total of 395 deaths since the beginning of this outbreak - 54 in the past week. 
  • ACT: today there were 28 new cases were reported, and one death. There are currently 395 active cases. 

As at October 6, Australia has had a total of 117,826 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (100,919 last week). There have been 1,379 COVID-19 related deaths - 123 more than last week. 

Worldwide: as at October 6, there had been 236,590,937 infections (233,513,553 last week) and 4,831,569 COVID-related deaths. (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 as of October 5, 53.57 per cent of Victorians have been fully vaccinated (82.94 per cent have received one dose). Australia wide, the figures are 57.36 per cent and 79.94 per cent respectively. The third vaccine approved, Moderna, is now available. 

Last week there was a terrific feature in the VTHC's Megaphone journal: Your Top Questions About Vaccines - Answered! It's informative, amusing and will help you in discussions with your family, friends and work colleagues. 

Melbourne demonstrations - update

Ever decreasing numbers of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination and some COVID deniers have continued to demonstrate in Melbourne. Unfortunately, the actions of these people have led to an increasing number of infections at the Melbourne office of the CFMMEU's construction and general division's Victorian branch, with family members of CFMEU workers now becoming infected. 

Breaking news: new COVID treatment on the horizon

This week the federal government bought 300,000 courses of a potential treatment for COVID-19 before the drug has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Molnupiravir could halve the chance of a patient dying or being hospitalised, according to Merck, the US pharmaceutical giant manufacturing the drug. The promising early results have been welcomed, but some are cautioning they want to see more work done before the drug is made available locally.
Read more: Merck pill could cut COVID risk in half but won't be a 'miracle' cure for coronavirus, scientists say and Federal government buys 300,000 doses of Merck pill ABC news online 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,

With the Victorian government now mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all 'authorised workers', I am wondering whether my employer could be in breach of certain sections of the OHS Act - if I or other employees do not want to be vaccinated. The sections I'm wondering about are: S.21 S.22 S.23 S.32 S.34 S.35 S.37 S.53 S.73 S.76 S.78A  

Your employer has an obligation under the OHS Act to provide you and all their employees with a working environment that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. This means a lot of things when it comes to minimising the risks of infection with COVID-19. These things must be covered in the employer's COVIDSafe Plan, and include workplace hygiene, implementing physical distancing, mask wearing, QR check-in systems, and more.

In addition, all employers (in fact all Victorians) have a duty to comply with any public health orders that have been mandated by the state or federal governments. 

As this requirement for COVID vaccinations is a public health direction, your employer must abide by it or be in breach of them, and seen as not providing a safe and healthy workplace. 

As for the sections of the OHS Act you have provided, it is hard to give advice without more details of how you think your employer is breaching the Act. I should be able to give you further advice if you point out specifically which parts of those sections you believe your employer is breaching and why. 

We have quite a bit of information on vaccines - hereAnd you may find this article, produced by another section in Trades Hall, interesting also. You should contact the union if you need more advice, or contact me again with more information. 

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

Asbestos news

National: Asbestos Awareness Week

Every year in Australia, in the last week of November, activities are held to promote the awareness of asbestos - which is endemic in our built environment.  This year the VTHC will be running a number of events, including a Live Show on Thursday November 25 at 7pm. Guests on the show will be Ms Simone Stevenson, the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency and Mr Peter Clark, OHS Organiser with the CFMEU whose specialty is asbestos. 

We will also be producing materials for all HSRs to use in their workplace, as well as a couple of interesting videos HSRs should find interesting. 

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has developed a campaign pack with materials, posters and information for the week - check it out here

Asbestos features in "Restoration Australia"

Recently, the ABC TV show “Restoration Australia” had an episode featuring a home that contained asbestos. The show handled this situation well, and in an educative fashion.

The episode, Episode 2 – Lyons, is available to watch free on ABC iview here.   

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

International union news

October 7: World Day for Decent Work

With trade unions and workers’ rights supporters mobilising around the world on October 7, the World Day for Decent Work, the ITUC is calling for governments to adopt national jobs plans based on dialogue with unions and employers.

Every country needs to play its part to address the 575 million global jobs gap and to formalise at least half of informal jobs by 2030.  Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: “Full employment must come to centre stage in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure future resilience. Jobs with rights for all, including maximum working hours, living minimum wages and health and safety at work. Inclusive jobs – because women lost the majority of jobs to COVID-19. Climate-friendly jobs and jobs in care and infrastructure – because the recovery from the pandemic must deliver a sustainable future for the world.” Read more on the ITUC website.

UK: as petrol and food runs low, temp visas only prop up broken system

UK government plans to relax immigration rules for truck drivers and poultry processors are ‘propping up a broken and exploitative system’, the Unite union has warned. The union said depriving other countries of their workers will allow the low pay and unpleasant and stressful working conditions that are the root cause of the driver and chicken factory shortages to continue. Unite national officer for road transport, Adrian Jones, said: “By plundering workers from other nations, the government is propping up a broken and exploitative system. Kicking these issues into the long grass instead of taking decisive steps now will only create worse disruption down the line.” Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson, said: “The poverty pay and insecure contracts on offer in poultry processing do not compensate for the physically draining and unpleasant work. That needs to change. What must not happen is the reestablishment of an employment system that relies on exploited migrant labour and pits workers against each other.” To protect workers and prevent a race to the bottom on working standards, Unite called on the government to ensure that safeguards are put in place to prevent foreign staff from being exploited in both industries. Read more: Unite news release. Government news releases on temporary poultry worker and HGV driver visas. Source: Risks 1016

Global: Make health and safety a fundamental right

New estimates suggesting the total work-related toll each year could be close to a ‘staggering’ 3 million deaths reinforce the need for occupational health and safety to be recognised as a fundamental right at work, IndustriALL has said.

The global union said that in November this year the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Governing Body will decide on whether to include on the agenda of its 2022 International Labour Conference the elevation of occupational health and safety to an ILO fundamental right. IndustriALL and other global unions are insisting that this needs to be done by amending the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, as this would be the easiest and fastest way to include occupational health and safety in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.

IndustriALL said the World Health Organisation (WHO) and ILO partial work deaths estimate of nearly 2 million each year – which does not include work deaths related to psychosocial factors, infections and even classic occupational diseases like silicosis - creeps ‘closer to 3 million’ when gaps in the analysis are filled. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: “All the killings of workers are preventable – enough is enough. This carnage must come to an end. We reiterate our strong demand to the ILO to make occupational health and safety a fundamental right, along with freedom of association, collective bargaining and others.” Read more: IndustriALL news releaseITUC news release.
WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury, 2000-2016: Global Monitoring Report [pdf], WHO/ILO, September 2021. Source: Risks 1016

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