It would be more than fair to say that the current situation in Tasmania is less than ideal. We are fielding many questions from workers about testing, isolation and safety, with the now steady but accelerating increase in COVID cases in the community.
The lack of any meaningful direction to the community and workers is the cause of confusion and concerns. Couple that with bosses making up rules on the run and, once again, workers are left holding the can.
We’ve been working hard with members to try to get answers to workers’ questions, and our main concern remains a surge workforce and the health and safety of workers and the vulnerable people you support.
Managing COVID and what you need to know
We know some workers have already had COVID or been a close contact, and we know that there has been varied and inconsistent advice on what the rules are and who is responsible for what.
If you are COVID positive, you must isolate for 7 days following the day you had your positive RAT or PCR test result. The day you had your test is day 0. If you have no symptoms on day 7, you can leave isolation.
Public Health will send you an email on day 7 of your isolation. This email will contain an official letter of release from isolation and this letter can be used as proof of release (or a medical certificate). If you have remaining symptoms after 7 days, you should isolate for an additional 3 days for a total of 10 days in isolation.
If you are a close contact, you are required to quarantine for 7 days and get tested on day 1 and day 6, and immediately if symptoms develop. Close contacts can leave quarantine on day 7 if they received a negative RAT or PCR test result from a test taken on day 6. If you live with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you’ll need to maintain appropriate separation in the household and have no symptoms when you leave quarantine.
The majority of workers will have access to personal leave if they have symptoms. But it’s more challenging for those who are casual or have exhausted their entitlement.
We believe you shouldn’t have to use your personal leave if you have no symptoms because you’re not ill or injured, and we believe you should be paid as per your roster while you comply with any direction to isolate, but we know some employers think it’s okay for you to wear the brunt of a decision that has nothing to do with you. We will continue to fight for better treatment of workers who are just trying to do the right thing.
If you believe you contracted COVID at work, you should talk to your GP about lodging a workers compensation claim.
For further information or support, please contact HACSUassist.
Do you have to top up your contracted hours with annual leave?
We came across a situation where an employer asked workers to top up their work hours with their own accrued annual leave because the organisation had lost clients with some more set to leave in the coming months.
Being the kind-hearted souls they are, staff reluctantly agreed to help their employer out during a difficult period. But sadly there appears to be no influx of new clients coming into this organisation, which raises the question of what will happen when staff have no more leave available. Will they be asked to go on unpaid leave?
This is unacceptable. We’ve written to this employer to remind them of their industrial obligation to their employees:
• Employees are to be paid their contracted hours of work monthly regardless of whether there is suitable meaningful work available
• The employer is required to consult around workplace change with the union
The employer must return the leave to those workers and have their hours reinstated, or we’ll need to take other steps to solve the issue. Workers shouldn’t wear the brunt of ill-conceived and poorly executed policy decisions relating to the NDIS. If anything like this is happening at your workplace, please make sure you let us know.
Untrained workers, helpful or dangerous?
As part of the plan for COVID related staff shortages, a disability provider wrote to their staff saying that they had started a register for untrained workers who can be called on to work on varied general tasks in shared homes under the direction of a trained and certified support worker.
This has posed many questions to the current trained workforce at this disability service provider. We’ve written to the employer and asked for more detail on the following:
• Will the untrained workers be required to have first aid skills in case an incident happens with a client and they were the only one on shift with the trained worker?
• Is the trained worker looking after an untrained worker then classed as a Senior Disability Support Worker as they are realistically training an unskilled person?
• Are the untrained workers employed under the workplace agreement?
• Who will be liable in the event of an incident?
• What is the guidance from the NDIA on untrained workers?
• As workers professional indemnity insurance probably will not cover untrained workers, will the employer’s insurance cover them if their own insurance won’t?
• What rate of pay will untrained workers be paid?
• Are untrained workers classed as disability support workers or something else?
• Will untrained workers have to adhere to the company’s drug policy?
We don’t understand why the employer would consider using unskilled workers without other considerations being made first.
We are keen to hear of any other “wonderful” ideas your bosses may have run by you or told you, particularly if they may jeopardise you or your clients.
Your safety is not negotiable
Our State Secretary Tim Jacobson and HSU National Assistant Secretary attended an urgent meeting of national union leaders on Monday to discuss the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the rapid spread of Omicron.
All unions at the meeting expressed their solidarity, respect, and deep gratitude to the care workers of our country who are experiencing the full brunt of this COVID wave.
The meeting resolved to write to all employers, reminding them of their obligation to do all that is reasonable and practical to keep workers safe.
This will require each workplace to undertake a new risk assessment for Omicron in consultation with unions, workers and their health and safety representatives. In addition, appropriate sector-specific plans should be developed in consultation with workers.
We’ll be writing to your employer and be asking them to tell us what new measures they will implement to ensure safety at work.
For workplaces where working from home is not an option, employers need to provide workers with free RATs and upgraded N95 or P2 masks once supply is resolved and improve ventilation.
Where employers do not fulfil their obligations, we are determined to do everything within our power to ensure you are safe at work. This may include stopping work or banning unsafe practices.
We need free RATs for the whole community, and we need a faster rollout of the booster and children’s vaccination to limit the spread and keep people safe.
The federal government’s failure to act has put us all in harm’s way.
COVID is no excuse to make it up
Some disability support workers have been told they can’t have a second job and this is a “government directive”. This is wrong. There is no government directive, and your boss shouldn’t lie about it.
Some workers have been asked to “volunteer” for short shifts or 12-hour shifts. While this may suit some genuine volunteers, you can’t be made to work short shifts or 12-hoursshifts – it goes against your agreement or the award.
Some bosses are also being cheap when it comes to overtime and saying everyone has agreed to work flat rate. It may depend on your agreement, but basically, if you haven’t agreed, then you should be paid for overtime. They can’t just short-change you by playing the COVID card.
If you are running into the above issues, it’s important that you know your rights and get in touch with us for help.
As always, thankyou for all you do for the people you support, and please keep us in the loop if anything comes out of left field at your worksite.
Please make sure you keep safe. If you have any concerns, please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org or 1300 880 032. We’ve got you covered.