Union News

Three workers die in the past week

In another very bad week, three Victorian workers have lost their lives since our last journal.

At about 2pm on Wednesday November 24, the 61-yr-old driver of a log forwarder was killed after he lost control of the vehicle going down a steep hill on a farm at Nariel Valley, south of Corryong. WorkSafe believes he was ejected from the vehicle as it rolled over multiple times

The second fatality occurred on the evening of Friday November 26. A 34-yr-old truck driver was crushed to death following an incident involving a road safety barrier near Nar Nar Goon. WorkSafe's initial investigations suggest that metal and concrete barriers, each weighing about 930kg, were being unloaded from the driver's truck at about 7pm when one fell and struck him.

These two fatalities bring the number of Victorian workers killed this year to 55. 

The third death was that of a night shift nurse in the emergency department of the Angliss Hospital, located in Ferntree Gully in Melbourne's outer east who died as a result of contracting COVID-19.  

Lisa Fitzpatrick, the Victorian secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said it was believed the nurse was the first Victorian-based hospital worker to die from the virus. Ms Fitzpatrick said the union believed she contracted COVID-19 while at work. WorkSafe is investigating whether this is the case. 

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the families, friends and work colleagues of the two men. No worker should die at work. Mourn the dead, fight like hell for the living. 

Nurse run down at Collingwood COVID testing site

Police have arrested a man in Carlton over an alleged hit-and-run crash at a COVID-19 testing site in inner-Melbourne on Tuesday morning.

Emergency services were called to the corner of Easey and Hoddle streets about 9.25am after reports a white Holden station wagon hit a pedestrian then fled the scene.

An Ambulance Victoria spokesperson said the man, a Cohealth testing clinic worker who had been helping clients queuing for a COVID test, had injuries to his upper and lower body and was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The testing clinic will remain closed until Thursday.

Police are still investigating the circumstances of the crash and said the man was assisting with inquiries.

Coronavirus Update 

New variant of concern - Omicron

On 26 November, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated a new COVID-19 strain, known as B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern and named it Omicron. Omicron joins Delta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma on the current WHO list of variants of concern.

Researchers spotted the variant in genome-sequencing data from Botswana. The Omicron variant has a large number of mutations compared with previous variants, more than 30 of which are in the spike protein – the 'key' used by the virus to enter the body’s cells. The large number of mutations has raised concerns that the antibodies from previous infections or vaccination may no longer be well matched. Experts are saying, however, that it is likely that some residual immunity, for example from T-cells, will remain.

In response to the emergence of Omicron, many countries, including Australia, have introduced restrictions and/or limited entry to people who have spent time in several southern African countries. The reality is, however, that by the beginning of this week, Omitron cases had been identified in many other countries. Since the announcement of the first cases in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong earlier this week, additional cases have been reported in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, the UK and Australia. All of these cases were in individuals who had recently arrived from South Africa, Mozambique or Egypt.

Latest figures December 1

Victoria: The number of new infections daily remains stubbornly around the 1,000 mark, but the good news is the number of active infections, and hospitalisations are coming down.

  • Active cases on Wednesday December 1: 11,959
  • New cases reported: 1,179
  • Hospitalised: 229, in ICU: 43; on ventilators: 18
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 1,337  
  • Vaccination rate: 90.74 per cent double vaccinated;  93.32 per cent one shot (over 12)

Note that the numbers of active cases, and those in hospital, in ICU and on ventilators, are coming down. 

Check the Victorian situation here

Australia: 

  • Total cases: 210,237 (200,651 on November 24).
  • Total COVID-19 related deaths: 2,006. 
  • Vaccination levels: 
  • 86.99 per cent double vaccinated; 92.42  per cent one shot. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age

Worldwide: 

  • Total cases: 262,993,505 (258,912,113 last week).
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 5,232,282  

(Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

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

There are two more COVIDSafe training courses to be run at this stage. The sessions will be 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.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata,

I am a new HSR at my workplace. I have requested a list of the members of my DWG, but my employer has refused to provide this to me. Is there a requirement in the Act for my employer to provide the full list of the DWG members to me as the HSR?

I am astounded by this question! What an absurd situation! How can a person be elected or represent the DWG members if they don’t know who is in that DWG?

Section 44(2) of the Act requires the employer to give written notice to employees once negotiations for DWGs lead to agreement. As the negotiations must take into account what the grouping of employees in each DWG is, this notice would need to include who is in which DWG. Given that once the DWGs have been established, it is up to the DWG members to determine how they will elect their HSR/s, it is clear that there must be a list of who is in what DWG. Otherwise the election process, including a call for nominations for the available positions, could not possibly be open and fair.

Most importantly, the role of the HSR is to consult with their DWG members and to represent them on any OHS related issues they may have. How would it be possible for an HSR to do this if they don't know who is in the DWG?? 

Finally, Section 59 of the Act only allows an HSR to exercise their powers in respect to members of their DWG... how could they ensure they are doing this if they don't know who is in their DWG. This section does allow the HSR to represent members in DWGs other than their own in certain circumstances - again, if they don't know who is or who isn't in their own DWG... 

Go back to your employer and request the list of members in writing. If they refuse, contact your union or WorkSafe.

If you have any OHS-related questions send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. Your questions will be answered by Renata or one of the other members of the VTHC's OHS Unit.  

HSRs invited to our End of Year Party

HSRs work tirelessly to keep workers across Victoria safe. It's been a huge year and to celebrate everything we've achieved we're going to have an end of year party! And we can finally meet face-to-face!

The VTHC OHS Unit is inviting HSRs and DHSRs to our End of Year event on December 15.

This will be an opportunity not only to catch up with each other, but also find out about all the fabulous things the union movement has achieved in the OHS space the past two years, and what is coming up in 2022. There will be food and drink, so join us. 

When: 6pm - 8pm. Wednesday, December 15
Where: 'Loading Bay' - Victorian Trades Hall Council, corner of Victoria and Lygon Street, Carlton
RSVP (essential for catering purposes!): Click here 

Lives in Limbo: Australia's broken temporary migration system

A Migrant Workers Centre survey of over 700 temporary visa holders has revealed the urgent need for more pathways to permanent residency.

The findings, which also draw on over 50 in depth interviews, are presented in the new report Lives in Limbo: The Experiences of Migrant Workers Navigating Australia’s Unsettling Migration System and reveal a broken migration system that sets workers up for exploitation and perpetual uncertainty.

Key findings show:

  • 65 per cent of temporary visa holders have experienced wage theft and 1-in-4 have also experienced other forms of labour exploitation
  • Extremely high levels of stress, the highest being among those on employer-sponsored visas
  • A link between workplace exploitation and temporary visa status whereby 91 per cent of workers who experienced wage theft arrived on a visa with no pathway to permanent residency
  • On average, it takes workers 5.1 years to acquire PR with the longest wait time being 13 years
  • Loopholes in visa programs such as employer sponsored visas which leave workers vulnerable to exploitative bosses and visa scams, and often tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

The Migrant Workers Centre urgently calls on the Australian Government to increase the proportion of permanent visas issued, introduce maximum wait times to visa processing, replace employer sponsorship with a State-/Territory-sponsorship system for permanent residency, and protect migrant worker whistle-blowers.

Matt Kunkel, CEO of the Migrant Workers Centre, said “The nation’s migration program has structurally brewed a population of precarious workers. Strengthening pathways to permanent residency will provide social and economic benefits to all workers in Australia.” Read more: MWC media release [pdf]. Lives in Limbo: Navigating Australia’s Unsettling Migration System [pdf]

Asbestos news

Trades Hall Asbestos Awareness Week resources

Last week was National Asbestos Awareness Week and the VTHC produced a number of great resources you may not have caught up with yet:

  • Live Show with special guests Simone Stevenson and Peter Clark. This was a really great live show, and our guests provided a lot of very useful and interesting information.
  • A second video: Gillian, a teacher, talks of how her father contracted mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos at work. He was an energetic retiree and active member of the community, the  asbestos exposure from 40 years before caught up with him. Gillian has shared her dad's story, in the hopes of saving others from experiencing the pain he did. 
  • A video with HSR Cameron McCormick (a finalist for WorkSafe's HSR of the Year) who successfully negotiated a safe outcome when asbestos was found in his school when renovations were due to begin. Cameron advises that where there's asbestos in the workplace, you can't just 'do nothing'. 
  • A fabulous Asbestos Register Checklist which makes it easy for HSRs (and others) to check that their employer (or the person with management and control of the workplace if this is not the employer) is complying with their duty to have an up to date and well-maintained register. 

Check them out on the Asbestos Awareness Week campaign page.

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

Did you miss our UV Safety Training Webinar?  

Our UV Safety Training Webinar was a big success but we know not everyone who wanted to attend, could attend. Don't fear, we have information on our website about UV, including an action plan for HSRs. Click here to visit our website and keep your workplace UV safe.  

An important part of staying UV safe is monitoring the UV you and your coworkers are exposed to every day. Download our UV safety poster to hang in your workplace.

Union body urges government to address harassment after Parliamentary Workplaces review released

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins this week launched Set the Standard, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.

Set The Standard is the result of seven months of deep engagement with current and former staff and parliamentarians from across all parliamentary workplaces. With more than 1700 individual contributions via interviews, submissions, and survey responses, this report represents a comprehensive understanding of the culture within Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. These include Parliament itself and 227 electorate offices across the country. It found that 1 in 3 workers have experienced sexual harassment 

Commissioner Jenkins said: “Over half (51 per cent) of all people currently in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces (CPWs) have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault in a CPW. That is unacceptably high.

“A lack of clear standards of conduct, limited accountability and power imbalances, combine with the high-intensity, high stakes nature of the work, the pursuit of political power and advantage, the frequent blurring of personal and professional life and the intense loyalty to political parties to create specific risk factors unique to this workplace."

Commissioner Jenkins said, "Throughout this Review, we heard that these workplaces are not always safe environments for many people within them.” She added that the review found that current systems encouraged, tolerated and enabled misconduct, together with processes "that are not equipped to prevent or address the consequences of that behaviour".

The report makes 28 recommendations that are designed to support all parts of the parliament to perform at their best and bring these workplaces into line with the standards expected of all Australian workplaces. The report sets out five key shifts required to ensure safe and respectful work environments in Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces in the areas of:

  1. Leadership
  2. Diversity, equality and inclusion
  3. Systems to support performance
  4. Standards, reporting and accountability
  5. Safety and wellbeing

ACTU President Michele O’Neil, said “Faced with appalling details of the dangerous culture in federal parliament the Prime Minister refused to accept responsibility and refused to answer questions about the dozens of recommendations from the [email protected] report which his Government have not addressed. Read more: Australian Human Rights Commission media release; Full Set the Standard report; ACTU media release 

Report into Ambulance Victoria finds over half experienced bullying

Ambulance Victoria last year engaged the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to complete an independent review into workplace equality in the service, following reports of alleged discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation and bullying in the organisation.

Volume One of the Final Report was published on November 30. 

The Report details widespread reports of incivility, disrespect, discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation, and presents 24 recommendations detailing changes that can be actioned immediately by Ambulance Victoria to begin rebuilding a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace.

Over the course of the Review, the Commission examined 1,213 documents, conducted interviews with 255 people and spoke to many more staff across a series of focus groups, site-visits and observational shifts. 2,163 people completed the Commission’s in-depth survey and 145 written submissions were received.

From the 2163 people who responded to the Commission’s survey, it was found that:

  • 47.2 per cent of survey respondents reported experiencing discrimination;
  • 17.4 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment;
  • 52.4 per cent reported experiencing bullying; and
  • 34.5 per cent reported experiencing victimisation.

A statement released yesterday states: "Ambulance Victoria deeply regrets the harm suffered by our people, past and present, as a result of discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, and victimisation.

"Ambulance Victoria has accepted all the recommendations in the report and the CEO and Executive team are committed to implementing these reforms to create a workplace based on safety, equality, respect, and trust at Ambulance Victoria."
Read more: VEOHRC Statement (including video of the Commissioner) and Report Workplace Equality in Ambulance Victoria [pdf]; AV statement 

 

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