Union News

Another Victorian worker killed 

In a terrible incident this week one worker has been killed and another has suffered multiple injuries. At about 7.15am on Tuesday morning a red Holden Commodore hit two traffic control workers setting up a roadworks site in Carrum Downs. 

Emergency services attended the crash at the corner of Hall Road and Lats Avenue where the 44-year-old worker from Bayswater died at the scene. According to police, the worker was wedged between a traffic management ute and the Commodore with force, and investigators will examine whether speed was a factor in the crash.

The second worker injured in the collision, a 38-year-old Traralgon man, was airlifted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital with multiple injuries. He remained in a stable condition as of Tuesday night.

In what police are calling "a callous, cold act. The act of a coward", the driver of the Commodore got out of his car, looked at the two workers he had just hit, and then fled the scene. 

The driver was chased by a witness who called out to him to stop and took photos. However the man got away, and was picked up by another man in a black Hyundai. Police are looking for both men. WorkSafe Victoria is also investigating the incident and the worker's death. Read more: ‘Callous, cold act’: Driver, accomplice on the run after fatal hit-run The Ag

This fatality brings the number of workplace deaths this year to 50 for 2021. The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of the man killed. Every workplace death is preventable: no-one should die at work. 

VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference Recording and Resources

If you missed the annual VTHC HSR conference you can check out the recordings of the speakers, including WorkSafe's CEO Colin Radford, VTHC Secretary Luke Hilakari, and the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt. Attendees were encouraged to send questions in - and we have published two of these below.

A group of United Workers Union HSRs from Crown Casino spoke about how they took action to get indoor smoking banned at Crown.

Importantly, keynote speaker Professor Lin Fritschi, John Curtin Distinguished Professor and Epidemiologist from Curtin University. Prof. Fritschi addressed HSRs and spoke about how to put the 'H' back in HSR and how HSRs can identify and fix health issues in their workplace. 

This was then followed by the panel of OHS experts from different industries - HSRs were invited to ask questions.

In the afternoon, attendees participated in breakout groups to discuss how the ideas explored in the morning could be implemented in their workplace.

Check out the recording, and download the materials on this page

Ask Renata  

This week, instead of publishing a question that came in to our unit, we are publishing two of the questions HSRs asked WorkSafe's CEO, Colin Radford, whose address included a discussion of the new powers HSRs now have. Mr Radford was asked a couple of questions about them at conference, and committed to responding. Here are two of those questions along with the answers from WorkSafe.

1: Does an HSR need permission from employer to take photographs?

WorkSafe is currently updating the Employee Representation Handbook with guidance on the new powers given to HSRs.

Generally speaking, if an HSR is taking a photo for the purposes of discharging or performing their role as an HSR, they don’t need to obtain permission. This is because the power is vested in the HSR directly by the OHS Act.

However there are some restrictions. HSRs cannot take photos when participating in an interview between an employee member they represent and an inspector or the employer.

Further, in circumstances where taking photographs of a workplace is restricted or prohibited because of the operation of some other legislation, that other legislation is likely to prevail. This includes high security workplaces such as courts, prisons, airports and the like. 

2: What happens if a photograph is taken using an employer-issued phone?

The use of phones for work purposes will often be governed by the Employer’s industrial relations policies.

However there is some comfort that could be given to HSRs around issues that might stem from the use of employer devices when taking photographs, including the following:

  1. Section 69(1)(a) of the OHS Act requires an employer to allow an HSR to have access to information that the employer has relating to actual or potential hazards at the workplace. Photographs taken on a work device are likely to be captured by this provision.
  2. Section 69(1)(e) requires an employer to provide facilities and assistance to HSRs that are necessary to enable  them to exercise their powers. In our view this would include this new power to take photographs. 
  3. All else failing, section 100 of the OHS Act allows a WorkSafe inspector to call upon documents or information held by the employer, which would capture any photographs taken on a work device.

Do you have any other questions about the new powers? Let us know - via our Ask Renata facility on the website.  

Nov 17: UV Safety Training Seminar

We Are Union: OHS Reps are teaming up with SunSmart to deliver a UV Safety Training Webinar. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a serious health and safety hazard – especially for people who work outdoors. UV is out there all day, every day. Australia has some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world and daily UV exposure adds up to increase your risk of cancer.

The webinar will go over what is UV radiation, how to protect yourself from it and work safely outdoors, early detection of skin cancer, and key information for employers and HSRs. Read more on UV Radiation.
When: 1 - 2pm, November 17
Where: Online RSVP for the webinar here  
Note: This webinar will not be recorded for later viewing so don't miss out on this event! 

Asbestos news

National Asbestos Awareness Week  

National Asbestos Awareness Week 2021 is November 22–28 with the theme “Think Twice About Asbestos.”

November 25: VTHC Asbestos Awareness Week Live Show

How much of a problem is asbestos in Victoria? Probably bigger than you think! Join experts Ms Simone Stevenson and Mr Peter Clark for our Live Show at 7pm on Thursday November 25. Simone is the CEO of the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency (VAEA) and Peter is an OHS Organiser with the CFMEU who specialises in asbestos-related issues in the construction industry. Tune in on our Facebook page We Are Union OHS at 7 o'clock for an hour of interesting discussion - and get your questions ready.  

For information and materials developed by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency for the week, check out and download the campaign pack on its website. Resources include:

Short renovation video
Was the building you work in built before the late 1980s? If so, do you know whether there's any asbestos somewhere? How much do you know about asbestos? Check out a short video "Breath-taking renovations" gives potential DIYers great advice on potential dangers in the home. It's amusing but gets across a very important message: Do you want a home that's worth dying for? Check it out now - in time for Asbestos Awareness Week. 

Asbestos mega-tip planned 
Two councils in Melbourne's west are rallying against plans by waste company Cleanaway to start processing asbestos at its 229 hectare Ravenhall tip.  According to the company, its planned expansion would improve an increasing problem in the city’s outer suburbs: the illegal dumping of waste, including asbestos. 

The plans have not been made public yet, but the councils have said that this is another example of the western suburbs being used as a dumping ground. 

Asbestos can be legally disposed on at 27 landfills in Victoria, including five in metropolitan areas and 22 in the regions. However, a Victorian government report earlier this year found there needed to be more asbestos-disposal facilities.

With a significant rise in the landfill levy, disposal companies, contractors and builders are increasingly avoiding tips and illegally dumping soil, forcing councils on Melbourne’s fringe to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in clean-up fees. Read more: Councils rally against asbestos plans for Melbourne's mega-tip, The Age

Bangladesh: Workers now getting some protection in ship breaking yards  
Finally Bangladeshi workers are being issued with PPE (personal protective equipment) as they break up ships weighting thousands of tonnes. These ships contain many toxic substances - including huge amounts of asbestos. Where once they just wore a cap or helmet, new laws mean they now wear masks, gloves, boots and a suit.

However, PHP Ship Breaking and Recycling Industries in the coastal city of Chattogram, is the country's only yard - of a total of about 80 - that complies with international health, safety and environmental rules for the risky occupation. Read more: Labour rights: Bangladesh's hazardous shipyards launch race for cleaner, safer future, Sight

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

Coronavirus Update

Victoria: Over the past two weeks numbers of new infections have stabilised, are and slowly trending downwards.  The number of active cases in Victoria on Wednesday November 10 is 15,031 (almost 1000 fewer than two weeks ago), with 1003 new cases reported. There have now been 1,206 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. Of the active cases, 471 are in hospital, 84 are in ICU, and 46 of these on ventilators. These numbers, too, are coming down. Check the Victorian situation here

The state is opening further, with over 80 per cent of the population now vaccinated. However, there are still measures in place, such as the requirement to wear masks when indoors, checking in with QR codes, and density limits. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible. 

As at November 10, Australia has had a total of 182,870 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (162,026 on October 27). There have been 1,841 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at November 10, there had been 251,497,635 infections (245,256,473 October 27). Since the last edition on SafetyNet, the numbers of deaths have now exceeded 5 million, with the total number now being 5,078,254 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

By November 10, 84.1 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 had been fully vaccinated, and 91.9 per cent partially vaccinated. Australia wide, the figures are 81.1 per cent and 89.5 per cent respectively. While Australia has done well overall with vaccinations, what is becoming clear is that there are groups of people where the rates are alarmingly low - First Australians and some rural communities in particular. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

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

Due to high demand, additional COVIDSafe training courses have been added. The sessions will run on the dates and times below and are capped at 40 participants per course due to the interactive nature of the workshops. 

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. 

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.

Union win for Farm workers - but many still being exploited

Last week Australia's unions had a big victory for farm workers when the Fair Work Commission ruled that workers picking fruit on a piece rate must be guaranteed a minimum wage under the Horticulture Award. A 'piece rate' is when a worker is paid according to the amount of produce they harvest, so the more fruit or vegetables harvested the more a worker is paid.

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) lodged its claim with the commission in December and argued that every worker should be guaranteed a minimum casual rate, currently $25.41 per hour. 

In its finding, the Fair Work Commission's full bench expressed the view that "the existing pieceworker provisions in the Horticulture Award are not fit for purpose. They do not provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net as required by the Act."

AWU national secretary Dan Walton described the ruling as one of the most significant industrial decisions of modern times. "I believe this decision ranks among the great victories of our union's 135-year history," Mr Walton said. "Fruit pickers in Australia have been routinely and systemically exploited and underpaid.

"Too many farmers have been able to manipulate the piece rate system to establish pay and conditions far beneath Australian standards. Now it will be easy for workers — even if they don't have good English language skills or Australian connections — to understand if they're being ripped off."

The union has a piece rates calculator on its website for use by agricultural workers to assist in calculating how much they should be being paid. 

However, more news has continued to come out this week about the shocking conditions some of these workers are working and living under. Many have come in from the Pacific Islands under special Seasonal Worker visas: more that 80 per cent of workers in Australia’s horticultural industry are migrants on temporary work visas (or they are totally undocumented). The Seasonal Worker Programme is supposed to be one of the better programs as it is more regulated than the Working Holiday Maker scheme.

With changes being proposed to allow more workers to come into the country, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has raised concerns about allegations of mass worker abuse and exploitation in the Pacific Labour Scheme.  

There is evidence that even though these workers are working 40-50 hours a week in very hot and harsh conditions in many instances, they are taking home less than AUD $300 a week - partly due to employers charging the workers for accommodation (up to $200 per week for a bed in a dormitory), transport to their actual place of work, and water. 

On the ABC's Breakfast program on Wednesday morning, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, when questioned about this, said the comments by the union movement were "a disgraceful generalisation and demonisation" of farmers, given the wrongdoing is confined to a small cohort of labour hire firms.

He also said that the problem was a 'cultural one' in that these workers were not reporting these problems - despite a current government campaign urging visa holders not to leave their designated employer and seek work elsewhere and warning of consequences including visa cancellation; not being allowed to work in Australia again (“this may include your family and community members”), and bringing “shame to your family’s reputation”.
Read more: Fair Work rules every farm worker on every farm entitled to take home a minimum rate of pay, ABC news online; ACTU media release; ABC Breakfast (including audio of interview); 
Australia needs better working conditions, not shaming, for Pacific Islander farm workersThe Conversation

International union news

UK: Night workers face low pay and high risks

Britain's peak union council, the TUC, is calling for better pay and conditions for the 3.2 million workers who regularly work nights. An analysis by the union body found many working overnight are on low pay and on insecure contracts, with 1-in-3 (33 per cent) night workers earning less than £10 (AUD$18.39) an hour. It revealed key workers are twice as likely (16 per cent) to do night shifts than other workers (8 per cent).

The TUC added that employers should consider health hazards of night working and take responsibility for workers safely travelling to and from the workplace. It said as well as being detrimental to family life, the health risks of regular night work include cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.

The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has said night work is also a ‘probable’ cause of breast cancer in women. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) study in 2012 concluded each year there are 555 deaths and 1,969 new cases of breast cancer in Great Britain attributable to shift work. The TUC adds that workers – particularly women - are at greater risk of harassment and attacks in their journey to and from work when it’s late at night.

The TUC says employers should consider the health hazards of night working in risk assessments, and take responsibility for workers’ safety travelling to and from the workplace. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Working through the night is tough – with night workers at higher risk of health problems and disruption to their daily lives.” She added: “The government must ensure that all night workers are treated with dignity at work. That means levelling up working conditions and pay and ensuring people are given proper notice of their shifts. And it means an immediate increase in the minimum wage to £10 an hour - which would benefit over two million key workers, and fair pay agreements across sectors which can agree fair rewards for those who work at night.” Read more: TUC news release. Wales TUC news release. Source: Risks 1020

Global: End ‘impunity’ for journalist deaths

More than 35 journalists around the world have been killed this year in the course of their work, some hit by bomb blasts, others personally sought out and killed in cold blood, figures from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have revealed.

Commenting on 2 November - the United Nations International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists – UK journalists’ union NUJ joined the IFJ and its affiliates worldwide to demand that governments stop turning a blind eye to attacks on media workers and bring those who threaten journalists to justice. The unions say “death threats, rape threats, doxxing, racist abuse, impersonation have led journalists to silence themselves, and many have been psychologically damaged.”  Across the globe journalists are regularly attacked while reporting in the field, their equipment is destroyed, their families are threatened. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said world leaders must call out the “evil regimes and speaking out for press freedom. The NUJ, IFJ and journalists’ trade unions will never cease from shining a light on these attacks on their members.” Read more: NUJ news release. IFJ news release and End impunity campaign. Source: Risks 1020

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