The current situation in Tasmania is less than ideal, and we’re fielding many questions from workers about testing, isolation and safety. Positive COVID cases have steadily increased since the border opened in December. With watered-down testing and reporting requirements for interstate travellers, we can expect to see cases escalate even more.
The lack of any meaningful direction from the government is the cause of confusion and concern among Tasmanians and, with bosses being left to make up rules on the run, workers end up holding the can once again. We’ve been working hard with members to try to get answers, and we’re concerned about a surge workforce and the health and safety of you and the vulnerable people you care for.
Pandemic leave scenarios still leave workers short
We’ve been having discussions with the State Service Management Office about them being more supportive given the tremendous pressure you’ve been under that will only continue as the COVID wave sweeps our state.
Last week we were told a positive RAT or evidence of registration on the public health website will be accepted for the purposes of personal leave. No other evidence will be required, so if your employer asks you to provide anything else, contact us immediately.
But we were also told that if you have no symptoms but test positive, you’ll be expected to use your personal leave. This is ridiculous given that you can get paid pandemic leave or be paid as per your roster if you’re a close contact and required to isolate.
This is completely unfair and no way to treat workers who’ve already been asked to do remarkable things to keep the show on the road. The government says it’s fine to recall close contacts to work, and for staff to work extended hours and for days on end to support us all, but they won’t grant the smallest concession to workers.
Our advice is to make a telehealth appointment with a GP as soon as possible if you test positive to COVID but have no symptoms. Then lodge a claim for workers compensation on the basis that you caught COVID at work, which will mean you don’t have to use your personal leave. Your HACSU organiser and our legal partners Hall Payne will help you with any process after you lodge the claim.
Unions make claim for COVID allowance
HACSU and other public sector unions have put a request to the state government to provide an allowance to those required to work with COVID-positive or suspected positive cases and for those who must work in full PPE due to the nature of their role.
In Victoria an allowance is paid to all public sector health workers who work in a COVID ward or unit or somewhere else where positive cases are managed. Hopefully some recognition can be provided in Tasmania, but we’re not convinced there’s a real understanding of the additional burden and stress of working under the current conditions.
An allowance must cover all workers who are exposed in the workplace. We certainly don’t want a situation where some get it and some don’t. As soon as we have any answer from the government on this or any other type of COVID payment, we’ll let you know.
Workers demand better on safety
Your union’s State Secretary Tim Jacobson attended an urgent meeting of national union leaders to discuss the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the rapid spread of Omicron.
All unions expressed their solidarity, respect, and deep gratitude to the care workers of Australia who are taking the full brunt of this wave of sick people.
The Morrison Government has ignored repeated calls from working people over the last 6months about the lack of crucial rapid antigen tests, and the slow pace of the booster and children’s vaccine rollout, putting working people at further risk.
The meeting resolved to write to all employers reminding them of their obligation to do everything reasonable and practical to keep workers safe. This will require each workplace to do a new risk assessment for Omicron in consultation with unions, workers and their health and safety representatives and, where appropriate, sector-specific plans should be developed with input from workers.
We’ll be writing to your employer to ask what new measures will now be implemented to ensure your safety at work.
Where working from home isn’t an option for you, the provision of free RATs will be necessary once supply is resolved, alongside upgraded N95 or P2 masks and improved ventilation.
HACSU will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure workplaces are as safe as possible, and where employers don’t fulfil their obligations, we’ll do everything within our power to ensure the safety of workers and the community – this may include stopping work or banning unsafe practices.
As for RATs – they need to be free and available to the whole community, not just essential workers, to limit the spread of COVID and keep people safe.
Worker numbers border on unsafe in youth detention
Due to so many permanent workers being unavailable and a failure to have a stable and available casual workforce, staff numbers fell to unsafe levels at Ashley Youth Detention Centre a number of times over the Christmas and New Year period.
They remain at a precarious level, and the pressure on available workers to do overtime or work more hours than normal can’t be sustained forever. There have been some encouraging efforts by centre management, but not enough has been done to keep young people and workers as safe as they can possibly be.
Youth Workers have sometimes had to take unreasonable risks by working alone in units, and staff have been on the brink of burnout because of the relentless demand to work more. This is even before a single COVID case inside the centre.
There are agreed safe minimum staffing numbers at Ashley, and these must be maintained on every single shift until some other agreement is reached, so members will meet incoming weeks to discuss how best to enforce them.
Sadly, this may affect the young people who live at Ashley, but they need to be kept safe and this simply can’t happen when there aren’t enough workers to support them.
You should always report any safety concern and never expose yourself to assault or allegations of wrongdoing when it’s totally and utterly unnecessary.
Regular department updates
Every day we meet with senior health officials to receive updates and raise issues that you’ve talked to us about.
We’ve made sure managers have been directed to give you more hydration breaks and appropriate time to don and doff PPE, but we know this is still a big problem, especially for ramped paramedics, so we’ll keep doing our best to ensure more is done to provide appropriate relief to workers.
We’re still concerned about outdoor breakout spaces and will continue to advocate for more covered outdoor spaces for workers to take their breaks – it’s all good when the weather’s fine, but that won’t last.
The number one concern is the health and safety of workers and the plan for a surge workforce if there’s an increase in hospital admissions or major staff shortages due to COVID. We still don’t have any info on how things will be managed if workers can’t come to work because they or someone in their family or household is sick.
Commencement of the school year
Workers who are also parents carry an extra burden, and many are very concerned about their children returning to school. We know it’s likely outbreaks will occur across schools, putting extra strain on our already stretched health and community systems if health workers need to stay at home to care for their children because of school or class closures.
We’ve raised our concerns with the department about how they’ll manage any staff shortages when schools reopen, and education unions have also expressed their safety worries. We’ll keep you posted on any response we get.
While you’re busy helping others, don’t forget yourself
COVID has dramatically changed our personal lives, but its effect on our working lives is even greater as we may find ourselves asked to take on roles outside our usual scope, work under-resourced or do additional shifts and duties that weren’t even a thing 12 months ago, and this is where the significant issues start.
We all know we need to be flexible, but there must be limits – just because we’re in a pandemic doesn’t mean we have to compromise our rights at work.
Mental and physical health has been front and centre of the fight against COVID since it began back in 2020, and the strain of being in the midst of the action with no real light at the end of tunnel may be taking a bigger toll on your mental health than you may realise.
Make a conscious effort to put time aside to focus on your own mental wellbeing – you spend your working life caring for others’ health and safety, don’t forget about your own!
If you ever feel overwhelmed or overly stressed, it’s important to get help or advice, and a good place to start is to use your workplace Employee Assistance Program, a fully confidential external service where you can debrief without fear of repercussions or judgement.
We’re also here to help if you feel confused, scared, and overwhelmed while working on the pandemic frontline. Call HACSUassist on 1300 880 032 if you have any concerns or questions.
We’re still visiting worksites, albeit in a more restricted fashion than usual, and want to hear how you’re going so if you’d like us to come and see you and your workmates, please get in touch.
Please take care –you’re not just an essential worker, you’re essential away from work too.
We represent you, we support you
Thanks for the amazing work you’re doing to support our community. If you have an urgent matter that needs to be addressed, you can call HACSUassist on 1300 880 032 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can contact HACSUassist between 8am and 6pm Monday to Thursday and 8am to 5pm on Fridays, about anything in this newsletter or any other concern, however small you feel your issue might be.
Be strong, take care and stay safe – we’re proud to represent you.