Union News

Tuesday, April 26: Rana Plaza Commemoration 
April 24 will be the 9th Anniversary of the mass murder of garment workers at Rana Plaza on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. On that day in 2013, over 1,100 workers were killed when bosses forced them back into work despite warnings about building safety.

Please join the Melbourne commemoration event.  The garment workers will be joining the commemoration. There will be speakers followed by laying of flowers and a minute's silence.

When: Tuesday April 26, 7.45am 
Where: The Qualitops factory, 6 Brex Court Reservoir.

All are welcome. Please maintain safe COVID safe practices. More information: Jenny Kruschel +61 0419 337 137

Next week, Thursday April 28: International Workers' Memorial Day
This year's international theme is Make safe and healthy work a fundamental right.

This is a reminder of Victorian Trades Hall Council's annual commemoration event to remember those Victorians who lost their lives at work - and to urge all of us to keep fighting to improve health and safety in our workplaces.

Join us in person next Thursday April 28 for the International Workers' Memorial Day 2022 event. Listen to a couple of guest speakers, participate in a minute of silence at 11 am and then lay flowers and wreaths. The event will also be live-streamed through the Victorian Trades Hall Council Facebook page.

When: Thursday April 28, 10.30 am - 11.30 am.
Where: At the 'Memorial Rock', Victorian Trades Hall Council, corner Lygon and Victoria Street, Carlton. Let us know whether you're coming: RSVP here  

Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living. 

IWMD Event Latrobe Valley 
An International Workers Memorial Day Commemoration service is also being held next week in Moe. The event is being jointly conducted by ACV/GARDS and the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council. Reverend Marilyn Obersby will officiate at the Ecumenical Service, and speakers include:

  • Perdita Dickson, WorkSafe (Manager Occupational Health and Operational Programs Prevention, Strategy & Planning Division)
  • Steve Dodd, Secretary of the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council

Singer/musicians Susan Parrish & Patrick Wakefield, "In Harmony", Richard Harris & Co - bagpipers will also be present.

When: Thursday April 28, 11.00 am.
Where: Gippsland Heritage Park, 211 Lloyd St, Moe. 
There will be a free community BBQ at the conclusion of the event - all welcome!

HSR of the year and other WorkSafe Awards
The WorkSafe Awards are being announced tomorrow evening at the Awards Dinner. The most important award is, of course, that of HSR of the Year.

The finalists are: 

  • Adrian Lidsey and Christopher Ball (Crown Melbourne, Southbank) - both members of the United Workers Union (UWU), Adrian and Chris presented to HSRs at the VTHC HSR Conference;
  • Cameron McCormick (University High School, Parkville), who is a member of the Australian Education Union (AEU); and 
  • Alyce Dickson (Barwon Health, Geelong), who is a member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

All finalists have been wonderful advocates for their DWG members and have achieved great 'wins' - all deserve the recognition being nominated as finalists has brought.

We will bring you the results of this and the other awards in the next edition of SafetyNet.

COVID Update 

Many Restrictions Lifted 
Announcements were made today in both Victorian and NSW as it appears that the peak of Omicron infections has begun to subside. 

The Health Minister, Martin Foley, today announced that Victoria's COVID restrictions will ease from midnight Friday. Changes include:

  • Removal of vaccine mandates and check-ins to enter retail and hospitality venues
  • Masks will no longer be required in primary schools, early childhood, hospitality and retail settings, or at events of any size
  • Close contacts will also no longer need to isolate - provided they wear a mask indoors and avoid sensitive settings. They will also need to undertake at least five negative rapid antigen tests (RATs) over the seven days that would previously have been the self-quarantine period 
  • All visitor restrictions in hospitals, except for mask requirements, will be removed. Health services will be able to tailor their own settings based on their own circumstances
  • changes to requirements for arriving international travellers.

In relation to workplaces: 

  • Individuals (who are positive we assume, and perhaps also close contacts) will be required to notify their workplace contacts, in addition to informing their social contacts.
  • Workplaces/employers will not have to individually identify and notify each potentially exposed worker 
  • Visitor restrictions in care facilities will be retained to protect the vulnerable
  • Face coverings will still be required on public transport and at airports – excluding airport workers who aren’t public facing – and in sensitive health, aged care and justice settings
  • All workplaces will still require a COVIDSafe Plan

What does this mean for workers? Experts have recommended that if close contacts of people who are positive with COVID return to the workplace, then they need to inform their employer, who in turn should ensure that they have indeed completed the required RATs and are negative. Other workers should be informed that close contacts have returned to the workplace and that their RATs have indicated they are negative. Other workers at the workplace, particularly vulnerable ones, then have the necessary information to decide what precautions they may want/need to take. 

The Health Minister, Martin Foley, said: “This sensible easing of restrictions is only possible because we are one of the most vaccinated societies in the world, with almost 70 per cent of Victorian adults already armed with their third dose.” He added: “Many things that are very effective in driving down transmission will remain strongly recommended. That will keep us protected during winter and help us respond to emerging risks.”
Read more: Victorian government media release

Numbers
There were 10,628 new infections reported today in Victoria. 

Victorian figures, April 20:

  • 53,518 active cases  (last week 60,756). The numbers are evening out and slowly decreasing.
  • 3 deaths reported 
  • 2,862 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 437 are in hospital, 34 are in ICU, and 12 of these are on ventilators. These numbers are higher than last week. 
  • 1,471,567 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 5,494,804 COVID cases (5,153,174 last week) and 6,842 deaths. 

Worldwide:  As of April 13, there had been 506,029,761 worldwide infections (500,838,107 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,228,132. (Source: Worldometer).

It has emerged over the past couple of weeks is that there are numbers of Australians now being re-infected with COVID. The latest reports are that at least 8,000 Victorians have been re-infected with the disease, and the cases of re-infection are increasing. Read more: ABC news online. Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

Vaccination update 
As of April 19, 82.86 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.87 per cent had received their first dose, and 53.17 per cent had their third dose. While there are still too few Victorians who have received the third dose, the percentages for older Victorians are high: 

  • over 90 per cent in those over 70;
  • over 85 per cent of people aged in their 60s; and 
  • over 81 per cent of people aged in their 50s.

Those over 65 (over 55 for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island Australians) can now get their fourth shot. It is extremely important that everyone maintains high levels of care to minimise the risks of ending up in hospital.

Australia wide, by April 19, the figures are 83.45 per cent, 86.61 per cent respectively, with 51.58 per cent having received the third shot.  Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. 

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

Hi Renata,

My employer, which is a large regional city employer, has told me that there is no legal requirement to have an elected HSR. I have checked the OHS Act and this seems to be the case - I can't see anything. I note that section 35 requires consultation. With an organisation of this size how can I persuade management that an elected HSR from a DWG should be in place? Can they just respond that consultation occurs via the employer appointed OHS Representative?

Your employer is misleading you. Whilst there is no legal requirement to have an elected HSR, once a request has been made to negotiate DWGs and elect HSRs, it is almost inconceivable that this will not happen. Let me expand in more detail

The Act puts a specific legal duty on the employer to negotiate and agree the establishment of Designated Work Groups at a workplace when requested by any employee (or their nominated representative). This is the first step in the process which culminates in the members of each DWG electing (at least) one HSR. This is quite apart from the duty to consult on how to consult with employees (under s35).

So the steps are as follows:

  1. Request goes to the employer to establish DWGs
  2. The employer must initiate negotiations to establish DWGs within 14 days after such a request
  3. Negotiations must include:
    • Numbers of DWGs (taking into account a number of ‘particulars’ – like the number of workers, locations, type of work, shifts, etc)
    • How many HSRs per DWG (there must be at least one) and how many deputy HSRs (if any)
    • Term of office for HSRs and DHSRs (no more than 3 years)
  4. There must be agreement on the DWGs – that is, the employer cannot impose what they want, nor can they refuse to establish DWGs
  5. If there are any 'particulars' on which agreement cannot be reached within a reasonable time, then either the employees (or their nominated rep – usually a union organiser) or the employer can request the attendance of a WorkSafe inspector who will come in and make the determination. In this case, 'particulars' can include the number of DWGs, the number of HSRs and/or deputies.
  6. Once DWGs are established, then the members of each DWG elect their HSRs/deputies – or if they don’t run the election themselves, they can determine how one will be run (eg ask the union, requests WorkSafe or even.. though we recommend they shouldn’t.. ask the employer)
  7. At any time either party may request a variation to current DWGs..

See these pages on the website:

It very much surprises me that (being such a large employer):

  • there are no DWGs already in place at your workplace. I assume that in the health areas, which are probably unionised, there aren’t already DWGs and HSRs in place
  • their OHS ‘experts’ don’t understand the duties of employers under the OHS Act!!

Their response really concerns me as they are denying you and the other workers the right to be involved in ensuring the workplace is as healthy and safe as possible. 

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.  

VTHC Webinar - Occupational Violence 
If you missed our webinar last week on occupational violence & aggression (OVA) in the workplace, then watch it here. Special expert guest was Kathy Chrisfield, from the ANMF who outlined how the union has tackled OVA. Kathy's presentation was followed by a very good Q&A session, with some very good discussion. Read more: Occupational Violence.

Asbestos News  
QLD: Millions spent to remove asbestos from schools
Asbestos was removed from almost 200 Queensland state primary and high schools in the past financial year, with the government paying more than $13m in costs.

A high number of the state’s older school buildings are known to contain building materials containing the material, with asbestos identification procedures occurring at more than 500 schools during the 2020-21 financial year. Source: Sunday Mail.

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

International Union News 
Global: International Workers' Memorial Day
With just over one week to go until International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, Britain's TUC is urging unions and safety activists to get their plans in place for the biggest event ever. It says there are two reasons for making an extra effort this year. Covid has exposed how worker safety is being disregarded. And the union movement globally is on the verge of winning recognition of occupational health and safety as an International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental right at work. For organising ideas and resources for your own event, visit the dedicated TUC webpages. 
Read more: TUC 28 April resources and events webpages. Find out what is happening worldwideSource: Risks 1040

Brazil: Natura workers force cosmetics giant to talks  
Job cuts and spiralling workloads that were leading to more stress and worker injuries at a Brazilian cosmetics giant have been challenged by the union. A 25 March protest by members of Químicos Unificados, the union representing workers at Natura Brazil, brought production to a standstill. Four days after the action, the company agreed to meet with the union and to improve conditions at the factory. Natura worker and union leader, Ivani Souza, said: “The work pressure has increased, but there are fewer people working, and we end up paying the price. The workload is excessive and many workers suffer injuries. That’s why we’re asking for decent pay and conditions.” A union statement noted: “There is no doubt that the pressure placed on Natura has borne fruit. Still, this is not the time to sit back and let the company act in its own interests”. Read more: IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 1040
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