Australian employers have been put on notice by a group of more than 30 unions to escalate their COVID-19 safety measures, who threatened to take action against any workplace that fails to do so.
Leaders from national unions met to discuss the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the rapid spread of Omicron, demanding better protection from the virus and free rapid antigen tests for employees.
Included in the unions’ demands is a requirement for each workplace to undertake a new risk assessment for Omicron in consultation with unions, workers and their health and safety representatives. In addition, where appropriate, sector-specific plans should be developed.
For workplaces where working from home is not an option, unions want employers to provide free RATs to all workers once supply is resolved, alongside upgraded masks and improved ventilation.
“Australia is now experiencing our worst days since the start of the pandemic and the highest level of sickness ever seen in the workforce,” the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said in a statement.
“Essential workers are being expected to put themselves in harm’s way to keep the country going and in many cases without the protections they need.”
“Where employers do not fulfil their obligations, the union movement determines to do everything within its power to ensure the safety of workers and the community. This may include ceasing work or banning unsafe practices.”
Last week, the ACTU warned that requiring workers to pay for their own RATs for COVID-19 would have a major impact on workplace health and safety standards.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said there was a “monumental workforce crisis” with a record level of essential workers sick and unable to work.
“This has led to an overwhelming of our health systems and a crippling of our supply chains.” she said.
“Some employers are responding by pressuring Covid-positive people to work, others have not changed safety measures despite the more infectious nature of Omicron, workers are sick, many now without income and there is a serious lack of national leadership.”
“Rapid Antigen Tests are an essential part of keeping workers and the whole community safe, and this is the only way that businesses will be able to stay open and function.”
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