Union News

Worker killed in farming incident

Sadly, a worker was killed since our last edition.

On the 14th of December, a 47-year-old farm worker was killed after becoming entrapped in a hay baler at Swan Marsh. The worker's arm was caught and dragged into the machine.

This brings the workplace fatality toll to 63 in 2021. No worker should be killed at work. Every death is preventable. Mourn the dead; Fight like hell for the living.

COVID-19 Update

On the 26th of November 2021 the World Health Organisation designated the Omicron variant of COVID-19 a variant of concern. 

This variant has now become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Australia, although the Delta strain is still circulating in the community. Thankfully, Omicron appears to be less severe than previous variants and the risk of severe disease may be reduced by up to 70%. However, the variant spreads significantly faster and can still lead to serious illness or death.

The rapid emergence of Omicron is already posing challenges to workers and workplace health and safety. Workers are now far more likely to catch the virus at work making employers' legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of workers more important than ever. Additionally, staff shortages due to isolation means that workers may be pressured to perform tasks outside of their job description or work unsafe hours, particularly in essential industries such as healthcare, essential retail and food transport and manufacturing. Familiar tools such as good ventilation, social distancing, adequate PPE and the ability to work from home where possible are all essential in slowing the spread of Omicron to ensure workers safety and to avoid overloading our healthcare system.

If you suspect that your employer is shirking their health and safety obligations, contact your union.

Rapid Antigen Testing

Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) detect whether proteins of COVID-19 are present in your body. They can detect COVID-19 during the ‘acute phase’ of infection, which is when symptoms first start to appear or shortly before that. Unlike PCR tests, Rapid Antigen Tests can be self-administered, done at home and will provide a result within 20 minutes. In Australia, RATs must be at least 80% effective to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. More information on Rapid Antigen Tests can be found here

In order to relieve pressure on the overwhelmed PCR testing infrastructure and reduce transmissions, health authorities have announced that if you test positive on a RAT, you are considered a ‘probable’ case. Unfortunately, due to an Australia-wide shortage, price-gouging from businesses and a lack of leadership from the federal government, RATs are hard to find and unaffordable for many workers. With many industries either requiring workers to return a negative RAT result before returning to work, or industries that have frequent COVID contacts, such hospitality and early childhood education, where staff are required to test frequently, lack of affordable and accessible RATs is spiralling into a disaster. 

Unions have been pushing for accessible, affordable RATs since mid-2021 but were ignored by the Federal Government. We're not giving up - sign our petition demanding Scott Morrison make RATs free and accessible for all Australians.

If you're currently struggling to find a RAT, this website lists locations that have RATs in stock.

Following a positive test, you need to report it, and you and your close contacts need to isolate for seven days. More information on the directions around Rapid Antigen Tests can be found here.

Employers providing RATs for employees coming in to work can be useful in managing workplace outbreaks as they are able to provide a result quickly, meaning if anyone is positive, they are able to know and isolate before spreading the virus to other people. 

Isolation requirements

With case numbers spiking due to Omicron, isolation requirements have changed.

If you are a close contact from your workplace or outside the household

  1. If you are symptomatic you must isolate and test using a rapid antigen test, or get a PCR test if you can’t access a rapid antigen test.
  2. If you are asymptomatic you are strongly recommended to use a daily rapid antigen test for 5 days, or monitor for symptoms if you do not have access to a rapid antigen test, and isolate and get tested if symptoms emerge.

If you are a close contact from someone in your household (including accommodation and care facilities)

  1. You must quarantine for 7 days and get tested in day 1 and day 6 of your quarantine with a rapid antigen test, or a PCR test if you can’t access a rapid antigen test.
  2. You are able to leave isolation on Day 7 of your isolation period if you received a negative result from the Day 6 test.

Note that from 12 January workers in the manufacturing, distribution or packaging of food and beverages including retail supermarket workers may be exempted from close contact isolation requirements if it is necessary for continuity of operations and other options have been exhausted. To mitigate risks, exempted workers must be asymptomatic, undertake daily RATs for 5 days and return a negative result prior to attending work. They can’t enter shared break areas, and employers are asked to facilitate solo break time. Face coverings must be worn, using N95/P2 respirators if possible and both the worker and workplace must consent to the worker’s return. This mirrors similar arrangements already in place for critical healthcare workers.

Anyone who tests positive from a Rapid Antigen Test must report this to the Department of Health and isolate for 7 days.

 We advise all readers to check the appropriate websites to ensure they are following the most up-to-date advice. For more information, check out:

·         https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/keeping-victorian-workers-key-sectors-safe

·         https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/checklist-contacts

·         https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/case-workplace

·         https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/checklist-cases

What if I've tested positive?

If you have tested positive, you must isolate for 7 days. Here's a useful checklist of what to do if you've returned a positive test.

You must tell your employer if you have tested positive so they can notify your workplace contacts. If you are a permanent employee (not a casual), you are entitled to sick leave while you're recovering from COVID. If you are a casual or believe you will lose income while isolating, you are eligible for a $750 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment to support you through your recovery.

Find more information about isolation support here.

Your employer cannot force you to work while you are unwell. If you have tested positive or you are unwell and awaiting a test, and your employer asks you to work, you have a right to refuse.

COVID-19 vaccinations update

COVID-19 Vaccination Boosters

It has been proven that immunity provided by Covid vaccines wanes over time; booster shots are essential to increase the protective antibodies that fight against COVID infectionPreliminary studies have found that having a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine restores a significant level of protection against the Omicron strain, reducing the risk of symptomatic infection, severe illness, and death from COVID-19.

As of Wednesday January 12, 18% of Victorians over 18 have received their booster shot and 93% of Victorians over 12 are fully vaccinated.

ATAGI and the Victorian Department of Health highly recommends that if you had your primary course four months ago or longer, you are due for your booster shot. This reduces to 3 months on 31 January. Right now there are more than 1 million Victorians eligible for their third shots.

If you are eligible for your booster shot and you haven't made a vaccination appointment, please arrange this as soon as possible by calling your GP, a medical centre or pharmacy in the booster roll out, or using the online booking system or calling 1800 675 398 for the state run vaccination hubs.

The Government also announced early this week that workers in key industries would be required to get their third vaccination before being permitted to work onsite. This applies to workers in healthcare, aged care, disability, emergency services, correctional facility, quarantine accommodation and food distribution. Workers eligible for a third dose on or before Wednesday 12 January will have until Saturday 12 February to get their vital third dose. Workers not yet eligible for a third dose will be required to get it within three months and two weeks of the deadline to receive their second mandatory dose.

Getting vaccinated is critical to protecting yourself, your loved ones and your community from serious illness, as well as helping reduce the strain on hospitals. Vaccinations, alongside social distancing, masks and ventilations, is how we ensure workplaces are as safe as possible from the spread of COVID.

You can book your third dose here: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/third-dose

For the latest update about vaccination booster requirement for workers, you can find it here: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/information-workers-required-to-be-vaccinated

For ATAGI’s statement on the omicron variant and Covid 19 vaccination booster, you can read it here: https://www.health.gov.au/news/atagi-statement-on-the-omicron-variant-and-the-timing-of-covid-19-booster-vaccination

 

Asbestos news

ACT: Canberra family unknowingly buys Mr Fluffy house.

A Canberra family bought a house in May worth $1.8 million, just 18 months before discovering deadly, loose-fill asbestos in their new home.

The property is the 6th house found to be missed by the state's asbestos removal program that inspected thousands of houses between 1989 and 1993. Three decades after the original program to identify and clean up Canberra's so-called "Mr Fluffy" homes — houses insulated with potentially deadly, loose-fill asbestos.

A "full asbestos assessment" does pick up the presence of loose-fill asbestos. The Asbestos Response taskforce recommended in 2014 that these assessments be mandatory for the sale of any home built before 1980. However, that recommendation was not adopted.

Mr Papas has implored authorities to think again and act to prevent another family from having a similar experience.

"I know my trades have been exposed and I think that's the hardest part," he said.

Source: ABC News https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-12-08/new-mr-fluffy-discovery-sparks-fears-of-more-asbestos-houses/100681730

NSW: Asbestos routinely dumped in landfill and improperly handled by workers at Bingo plant, AWU alleges.

Workers at Bingo Industries’ Eastern Creek recycling plant are routinely handling potentially deadly asbestos without proper safety equipment and procedures in place, the Australian Workers Union (AWU) has alleged.

AWU representatives inspected the billion-dollar recycling and landfill facility on Thursday after several failed attempts to gain entry. “When our officials were delayed entry to the site by Bingo management, it seemed clear there was something to hide; what we discovered on site today confirmed our fears,” AWU NSW secretary Tony Callinan said.

Callinan also expressed concerns workers were expected to wash their clothes at home, potentially carrying the deadly fibres with them to expose loved ones.

“We have members routinely expected to sort through broken up pieces of building waste, including asbestos travelling along conveyor belts. They are then expected to wash their clothes in their homes, even though they could be covered in asbestos dust. It is shocking,” he said.

Callinan said the alleged oversights had been reported to Safe Work NSW, and the AWU would also be considering other legal avenues.

Source: news.com.au https://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/asbestos-routinely-dumped-in-landfill-and-improperly-handled-by-workers-at-bingo-plant-awu-alleges/news-story/758bcd0213090ad099a0f23f61799da9

 

 

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