Union News

COVID Update 
Following the relaxation of restrictions, the number of new daily infections has, as expected, increased. Today the state recorded  7,126 new cases. However, the numbers in hospital and in ICU have continued to fall. 

Victorian figures, March 2:

  • 41,162 active cases  (last week 42,016 )
  • 28 deaths reported today
  • 2,518 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 264 are in hospital, 37 are in ICU, and 5 of these are on ventilators 
  • 1,054,538 total number of infections

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 3,236,095 COVID cases (3,074,283 last week) and 5,210 deaths. 
Worldwide: as at March 2 there had been 438,2556,613 worldwide infections (427,885,338 last week). There have now been 5,981,089 official COVID-related deaths.  (Source: Worldometer.) Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

How we live 
This week more and more Victorian workers have begun to go back to their workplaces, with the recommendation to work or study from home removed.

Workplaces should still have COVIDSafe plans in place, to ensure that the risks of contracting COVID at work are identified and minimised. While face masks are no longer mandatory in most indoor settings, many will continue to wear them. Masks are still required in the following situations: 

  • On public transport, in taxis and rideshare, on planes, and indoors at an airport
  • Workers in or visitors to hospitals, and indoor areas at care facilities
  • Workers in hospitality, retail and the court system
  • Workers at justice and correctional facilities
  • Students in year 3 or above at primary school, and workers at early childhood centres and primary schools (masks can be removed in secondary school)
  • People working indoors at an event with more than 30,000 people attending
  • In special circumstances, such as if you have COVID-19 or are a close contact and you're leaving home

Vaccination update 
As of March 2, 79.46 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.41 per cent had received their first dose, and 46.63 percent had their third dose (note that this has just recently been approved for 16 and 17-year-olds). Australia wide, the figures are 76.69 per cent, 85.81 per cent respectively, and 44.43 per cent had received the third shot. You can check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. While Victoria is no longer in 'lock down', it is extremely important that everyone maintains high levels of care to minimise the risks of getting infected. 

If you have not done so yet, please organise to get your third, or 'booster', shot as soon as possible. Remember that boosters reduce your chance of hospitalisation by 90 per cent against Omicron and your chance of death by even more. To book your third shot today, go to the Victorian government's vaccine booking portal here 

COVID sessions for HSRs 
Online COVID Safe Training for HSRs has returned this year. There are two sessions over the coming weeks:  

  1. March 10 - 12.30 to 3 pm 
  2. March 21 - 12.30 to 3 pm 

The sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs, and aim to provide resources and information on how to exercise your powers as an HSR in helping prevent workplace outbreaks of COVID-19. They have been updated to cover the Omicron wave and the importance of Rapid Antigen Tests and booster doses - however if you attended the course last year the conversation around your powers at work is the same.

VTHC Ventilation webinar and workshop - if you missed it
The OHS Unit ran a very successful webinar on a very topical subject yesterday: Ventilation. The turn out was great, the presentations were fabulous, and the discussions in the workshops were very interesting. The team is currently editing it, and once this is done, we will load it on our FB pages and on the site. Read more: Ventilation and infectious diseases  

Is your workplace still COVIDSafe? 
Now that restrictions are relaxing even further, it can be hard to keep up with what your bosses’ obligations are, and what you can do as a worker. It’s important to remember that workers must be consulted as their COVIDSafe plan changes, if you’re worried or unsure about this, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our COVIDSafe team here. All workers deserve to have a COVIDSafe Workplace.

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

My work requires me to use some personal protective equipment (PPE) - as the risks cannot be eliminated and even with controls in place, I am still at risk if I don't wear special gloves and eye protection. My question is: who is supposed to provide and pay for this PPE? 

The short answer is that your employer must provide and pay for any PPE necessary to ensure that employees are able to carry out their work in a manner that is safe and without risks to health. The OHS Act places a duty of care on employers to identify hazards and risks, and then eliminate them so far as is reasonably practicable. In many cases, it is not possible to eliminate the risks at source - by eliminating a hazardous chemical for example, because it is necessary for the work involved. In such cases, the employer has the duty to implement controls to minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

The controls implemented should be according to the 'hierarchy of control' - that is, as close to the hazard as possible. So, for example, substituting the chemical for another one that is less hazardous. If a risk remains, then measures such as engineering controls come next - like exhaust ventilation. The last control is the provision of personal protective equipment - this is because even when necessary, there are problems with PPE. 

The duty to implement controls is the employer's. If workers have to wear/use PPE then it is the duty of their employer to ensure that the most appropriate PPE is provided to them - and paid for by the company. The employer also has the duty to provide workers with training on the need for and correct use of any PPE.

In some other jurisdictions, this duty is specifically found in regulations - and clearly communicated by the WHS regulators. However, this is not the case in Victoria. Read more on PPE

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.  

Asbestos News 
Asbestos communication guidelines
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) is now consulting on the new Guidelines for communicating about asbestos risk which have been developed by the Agency in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. They are also consulting on the Communicating Asbestos Facts and Figures guide which is to be read and used in conjunction with the guidelines.

The consultation period opened on Monday, and will be open for 6 weeks, closing Friday 8 April 2022. The papers and further information including how to make a submission can be accessed here.

This consultation is focused on asbestos communications, specifically the communication of asbestos risk. The guidelines are for anyone who has responsibility for communicating about asbestos risk with the public. 

Anyone who is interested should participate and is welcome to make a submission. For more information or any queries, please contact ASEA directly at [email protected]

Annual Asbestos Conference 
This year's Asbestos Safety and Management Conference, will be held from 19–20 May 2022 at the Fairmont Resort & Spa in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Blue Mountains. Run by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), it is being jointly hosted by the Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC). 

This important national event, which will have a special focus on those on the front-line of asbestos safety management, will comprise a 2-day conference including a series of plenary sessions, workshops and networking activities, as well as optional pre-conference activities held on 18 May.

The conference will be a hybrid event, offering delegates the opportunity to either attend in-person or livestream the event. Read more: 2022 Asbestos Safety and Management Conference.

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

Reminder: Mind Your Head resources 
Mind Your Head is a joint initiative of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Employers Mutual Limited, the Centre for Workplace Excellence and supported by WorkSafe Victoria's WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

  1. OHS checklist for psychosocial hazards Mind Your Head OHS checklist for psychological hazards, for activists and HSRs to use to assist in identifying psychosocial hazards in their workplace.
  2. Mind Your Head WHS Guidance Booklet - provides guidance on psychological hazards

Go to the Mind Your Head website for more information and resources. 

International union news 
ITUC and ETUC: Putin's war must stop
International union confederations, the ITUC and the ETUC, have condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  They have said in a statement that the attack on Ukraine is a flagrant violation of international law and of Ukraine’s territorial integrity as a sovereign and democratic state.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “We mourn for those who have lost their lives and offer our deepest condolences and solidarity to those who have lost loved ones or been injured. The imposition of sanctions by governments which support democracy and the rule of law is both inevitable and justified and should focus particularly on the entourage of President Putin who is leading Russia down this destructive path and threatening peace in Europe and the world." 

Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the ETUC and of the ITUC Pan-European Regional Council said: “We strongly condemn the war, that hits people and workers first, and advocate for dialogue, peace, and democracy to be reestablished immediately."

The ETUC and ITUC called on their members to extend practical solidarity to the workers and people of Ukraine through a solidarity fund for the ITUC’s Ukrainian affiliates, and by calling on governments outside of Ukraine to provide safe haven for refugees fleeing the conflict.

Workers – both in Ukraine where the threat is existential, and in Russia and Europe where living standards and jobs will be affected – must not bear the brunt of war. The union confederations are urging governments to ensure that those with the most resources shoulder the greatest burden of the sanctions. Read more: ITUC ETUC Joint statement 

"Fighting for our future": Climate crisis guide 
In an editorial, international food union confederation IUF says: "
Trade unions have a long and proud tradition of fighting for a safer, more equal world where the rights of workers are a prerequisite for achieving economic and social progress. We now live in an increasingly unstable climate where extreme weather events have become commonplace. While all humanity is under threat, the crisis has a disproportionate impact on people in precarious employment, including many agricultural workers, migrant workers, women workers, LGBTI workers and workers from ethnic minorities."

It says that achieving a climate friendly food system is an urgent task which demands a collective response, and that ‘market corrections’ will not resolve structural and entrenched inequality. It warns that there is a real danger that entire communities of workers and their families will be sacrificed to climate restructuring as the sector seeks to reinvent itself. "Transition to more climate friendly food sectors demands careful planning and implementation with unions negotiating with employers and governments to achieve sustainable employment. Skill development, income protection, job guarantees and public and private investment in green technologies are required. A more equal distribution of wealth is critical to guarantee political, social and economic stability through this transition."

It stresses that unions must be involved to ensure communities are not "abandoned to poverty, intergenerational unemployment, addiction, and the politics of resentment where scapegoated communities are subjected to violence on a daily basis."  

Fighting For Our Future – An IUF Guide on Tackling the Climate Crisis in Intensive Livestock Production [pdf] was released this week, beginning a new chapter in the organisation's work to integrate climate and environmental stability with the fight for equality and democratic rights. Read more: IUF Editorial The Guide is also available to download from here in Spanish, German and Portuguese (with French and Swedish coming soon)

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