- by N Stallon
- The Guardian
- Issue #1993
The recent Omicron crises, the result of the incompetent Coalition government’s “let it rip” strategy, is reeking chaos in Australia’s logistics industry.
High numbers of workers off sick with COVID, as well as close contacts in isolation, have caused severe staff shortages in an industry already plagued by understaffing and short-term casual contracts.
This comes despite the government changing the definition of a close contact to “a person who usually lives with or who has visited the same household for more than 4 hours as a COVID-19 case during their infectious period”.
Unfortunately, the virus is no less infectious at work than at home. In reality, logistics workplaces hold a high risk of COVID transmission due to the physical nature of the job.
To think that a worker with a positive COVID result would not infect their co-workers in an 8-hour shift is ridiculous.
In fact, the government knows full well the likelihood of COVID transmission in the workplace and the danger it poses to workers, but they simply don’t care.
The government expects workers to work until they drop. After seven days, they are even free to leave self-isolation provided they don’t have any COVID symptoms, whether they’ve tested negative to COVID or not.
The NSW and QLD governments have even got further than the rest of the country, allowing employers to force asymptomatic employees to work in other critical industries such as food manufacturing.
These laws give employers the power to force symptomless yet COVID positive workers to work, where they risk making even more co-workers sick.
The Transport Workers Union has condemned the changes as “beyond reckless”, with ACTU acting secretary Liam O’Brien saying that the changes would increase workplace infections and cripple our supply chains.
With up to half of all workers in NSW absent from work due to COVID, this has been made plain to see.
Supply chains have halted, leaving supermarket shelves empty. The public is facing purchase limits and shortages of staples such as fresh food and vegetables, toilet paper, masks, hand sanitiser, and even medicine. At the same time, producers have warned that food is being left to rot without enough drivers to transport them.
Consumer confidence has plummeted as people have locked themselves down to protect themselves. This is one of the worst public policy failures in Australia’s history.
After an emergency meeting of thirty unions, the ACTU warned that employees will go on strike if employers do not provide protection from COVID, such as free rapid antigen tests and N95 masks, as well as upgraded safety protections.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus has said that unions will write to employers reminding them of their obligation to protect workers.
Yet, in a bid to recoup costs, employers such as Patricks Stevedores are threatening to tear up hard fought for enterprise agreements in a bid to slash workers’ pay and conditions. These callous acts will lead to industrial disputes that further cripple supply chains.
Workers are risking their health and safety, and should be protected and rewarded, not punished.
This policy of “work ’til you drop” has had disastrous effects on workers’ health, safety, and the economy. Products don’t appear on the shelves by themselves. Behind every product is the labour of thousands of workers, creating and transporting the goods necessary for society to function.
Not only are workers lives and safety more important than the economy, but there is no economy without workers. You cannot sacrifice workers health for the economy.
The government must be held accountable for its failures. They have cost Australians their health, safety, and in far too many cases their lives.
Any attempts to attack workers’ rights and pay, whether by the government or employers, must be fiercely rejected.
Striking over health safety grounds is an important tool in defending and advancing workers interests.