Unions have called for free rapid antigen tests and workplace COVID safety plans following an emergency meeting, with healthcare unions branding the situation as dire.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions claims governments who have ‘let the virus rip’ have failed to adequately prepare the health system and community for the consequences.
Workers in these states are exhausted and feel abandoned by the government, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said after Monday’s meeting.
“We heard from healthcare unions and I can only describe what they say as dire in our hospital, aged care and disability support (industries).
“People will die if we don’t reduce the number of infections out in the community,” she said.
“What we need to do is absolutely everything we can to reduce the pressure on our healthcare system, because it’s meaning they are becoming overwhelmed and people are unnecessarily suffering.”
McManus said the Omicron outbreak required new health and safety provisions in workplaces, with unions planning on writing to employers to remind them of their obligations to workers.
“We will be calling on employers to conduct urgent risk assessments in workplaces and upgrade protections that are currently available for workers,” she said.
This includes the provision of free rapid antigen tests to all staff who cannot work from home once supply issues are resolved as well as upgraded masks and improved ventilation.
McManus criticised the Federal Government for not making rapid antigen tests free universally.
“This is the number one tool working people and people in the community need to keep ourselves and each other safe and to limit the spread (of the virus),” she said.
The ACTU also called for sector-specific plans developed in consultation with unions where appropriate.
Unions are reserving their rights to cease work or ban unsafe practices if employers fail to act.
“We are hearing (some) employers putting people in harm’s way … putting pressure on casual workers when they’re sick,” McManus said.
“Unions will not accept people going to work sick and infectious.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said workers who were sick or symptomatic could get free rapid tests from state clinics, which the federal government was subsidising.
Frydenberg also noted some large employers, as well as aged care providers, were making rapid tests available to staff for free.