Union News

COVID Update

Omicron might be milder than Delta and the original variant, but the transmission rate remains very high. The numbers of new infections are still increasing, particularly as individuals are now required to report a positive RAT result. Thankfully however, the peak of the Omicron wave seems to be over and active case numbers are declining.

The number of active cases in Victoria yesterday, January 26, was 139,562 with 13,507 new cases reported. There have now been 1,871 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. Of the active cases, 1,089 are in hospital, 113 are in ICU, and 40 of these are on ventilators. You can check the Victorian live update here

Australia wide, there have been 2,285,286 COVID cases in total and 3,230 total deaths. On December 15, just before we closed for the end of year break, the number of cases in Australia was just 235,529. The huge increase of over 2 million cases illustrates how much more infectious the Omicron variant is. 

Worldwide: as at January 26, 2022 there had been 358,865,529 worldwide infections (on December 15 the number was 271,725,553)There have now been 5,632,426 COVID-related deaths worldwide. 
(Source: Worldometer.) Read more about Coronavirus

Third, 'booster', vaccination crucial

As of January 26, 92.37 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 had been fully vaccinated, 93.86 per cent had received their first dose. Australia wide, the figures are 92.04 per cent, 94.68 per cent respectively. In Victoria, 31.15 percent have now had their third dose. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates.

According to the Chief Health Officer, we need to get a booster dose because it offers a 68-fold reduction in the risk of death compared to unvaccinated people and a 7-fold risk reduction compared to being two-dose vaccinated.

There has been increasing evidence that immunity from infection decreases significantly 12 - 15 weeks after the second shot of any of the approved vaccines. While there is still some protection against serious disease, it is crucial that everyone get their third shot as soon as eligible. Initially this meant waiting six months - however now anyone over the age of 18 is eligible for the third shot after four months - three in Victoria.  

Health officials believe that while we might be past the peak of infections, we are likely to continue to see hospitalisations increase for the time being.

This means fewer hospital beds for our sick loved ones COVID-related or not. So, what are you waiting for? Book your third dose now if you are eligible which is currently 3 months after you had your second dose. Do it to protect yourself, your family, and our community. Book now at one of the state vaccination hubs or walk in clinics.

Many will be aware that the Victorian government requires that all workers – in Melbourne and regional Victoria – on the Authorised Worker list be fully vaccinated - including their third shot (if eligible) by 12 February.

The decision to not be vaccinated can affect someone's livelihood and threaten their life. Here are two instances from this week's news:

1 - A second AFL player will not be playing this year due to his vaccination status. Brisbane Lions is set to terminate the contract with Cam Ellis-Yolmen because of his decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Ellis-Yolmen will join former Blue Liam Jones to opt out of the game as a result of his decision to reject compulsory vaccination. 

Also, West Coast star forward Jack Darling’s career, meanwhile, remains unclear as a result of his failure thus far to get vaccinated. He cannot train with the Eagles until he has one shot, with the AFL also imposing a deadline of February 18 for West Australian, Queensland and South Australian players to have two jabs, or full vaccination, to continue training. Read more: The Age

2 - American rock singer Meat Loaf died last week at the age of 74, apparently due to COVID. While his vaccination status has never been revealed, Meat Loaf, whose real name was Marvin Lee Aday, was outspokenly anti-vaccine mandate and anti-mask before his death — once telling a reporter, “If I die, I die, but I’m not going to be controlled.”  He was opposed to pandemic restrictions, slamming lockdowns and mask mandates during an interview last year, saying he considered such measures ineffective and 'political'. Read more: The New York Post

The Prime Minister, RATs and children

The ACTU and Australia's union movement have condemned Scott Morrison for the failure of his government to listen to advice from medical experts, businesses, and unions as far back as 2020 that large numbers of Rapid Antigen Tests would be required to keep working people and the broader community safe. Unlike the UK and US governments which are providing free RATs for anyone who wants them, enabling people to test frequently and without delays, keeping the community and workplaces as safe as possible, our government continues to insist only some Australians can get them free. 

Instead of accepting responsibility for the lack of tests,  Scott Morrison last week flagged the idea of allowing people under the age of 18 to apply for forklift licences, as one way of tackling the shortage of workers in the supply chain caused by the highly contagious Omicron. 

Not surprisingly, unions around the country slammed the proposal, highlighting the high workplace fatality rate involving forklifts and similar mobile machinery. "Morrison wants to see children operating one of the most hazardous pieces of industrial plant on worksites. It is completely unacceptable," the national assistant secretary of the CFMMEU's construction division, Nigel Davies, said. Unions fought for decades for regulations requiring workers to obtain a high-risk work licence and be over the age of 18 to operate forklifts and other machinery to "ensure safety for all workers."

Despite the regulations, fatalities occur as forklifts are highly dangerous. Both WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWorkNSW last year issued warnings to employers. Luckily the proposal was voted down by the National Cabinet. Source: ACTU media release; OHSAlert

Omicron Risk Assessments

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to pose risks to health and safety in Victorian workplaces, highlighted by the surge of cases from the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Remember: your employer must meet their occupational health and safety duties, to eliminate (or minimise) the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace. This means conducting Omicron risk assessments in consultation with health & safety representatives and workers. 

On Monday the 17th of January, the ACTU along with 30 unions held an emergency meeting, at which union leaders reported on the devastating impact the latest COVID wave is having on the health and incomes of working people. Unions are demanding urgent Omicron risk assessments, free rapid antigen tests, N95 masks and upgraded safety protections for workers. 

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said that unions would write to employers reminding them of the obligations to take all reasonable steps to keep workers safe. Ms McManus also said “for those employers who will not work with us to make workplaces safe, the Union movement will do what is necessary up to and including ceasing work in order to keep workplaces safe.” Read more: ACTU media releaseUnions threaten to stop work unless Omicron safety measures improve. SMH

Has your Employer either recently reviewed and updated their COVID risk assessment or undertaken an Omicron COVID risk assessment? Did they consult with HSRs and workers? 

If you answered "No" to either of the two questions or aren’t sure, it’s time to contact and seek the assistance of your union to call on your employer to identify and eliminate the COVID risks in your workplace as far as is reasonably practical. Every worker deserves a safe workplace. 

If you have questions around maintaining a COVIDSafe Workplace, you can also contact the COVIDSafe Workplaces team at Victorian Trades Hall Council here.

Omicron Impact Survey 

As noted, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has had a massive impact on Victorian and Australian workplaces over summer. Workers have been at the forefront of this outbreak, with many at risk of infection every day that they come to work. We’ve heard a lot in the media from about supply chain issues, staff shortages and its effects on business. 

We want to hear you, as Health & Safety Representatives or workers, how the Omicron outbreak has impacted your workplace and your workmates.  

We know that some workplaces are handling the outbreak better than others and that different workers have unique challenges from this outbreak. 

This is your opportunity to help make Victorian workplaces safer by taking part in the Omicron Impact Survey. Workers experiences must be front and centre in health & safety. 

ACTU Omicron Webinars

The ACTU is holding a series of webinars and virtual town hall meetings to educate HSRs, activists, members and the public about workers’ rights and the key health and safety measures that workplaces should be implementing, in light of the current situation with the Omicron variant.

Know your rights - Omicron and Work (2 sessions) 

For union members and the general public – Town Hall discussion

Thursday 27 January,
12:30pm and 6:30pm (AEDT)
Click here to register.

Omicron and safe workplaces - Health and Safety Representatives and Delegates briefing (1 session)

Tuesday 8 February 
3pm - 4pm (AEDT)
Click here to 

WA: Laundry worker dies in extreme heat

According to unions, ‘deplorable’ conditions in a Perth laundry led to the death of a worker on Christmas Eve. The 55-year-old woman, who worked 60-hour weeks at South Pacific Laundry, collapsed inside the factory about 8.20pm on 22 December and died two days later after suffering from a blood clot and cerebral aneurysm.

The United Workers Union and the manufacturing union CFMMEU investigated the tragedy and slammed the working conditions in the factory. They found workers were working in extreme heat with machinery exhaust fans blowing hot air directly onto their workstations. Several workers reported to the union officials that they suffered from heat stroke and breathing difficulty while working in the factory. The only water dispenser available was broken and workers were processing dirty bedding with no PPE because it was too hot to wear.

Union officials said workers 'had panic attacks coming to work'. “Conditions inside were deplorable - the worst I've ever seen,” one union representative told the West Australian newspaper. The workers of the factory, many of whom only spoke limited English, were regularly forced to work six or seven days a week by South Pacific Laundry. Read more: West Australian

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