Casual workers and those in insecure jobs have been left cruelly exposed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, says the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions).
Despite the undeniable financial crisis many Australian workers are confronting, Morrison has ruled out providing two weeks of paid special leave for those working without sick leave provisions.
Suggesting that casual and contract workers can be simply moved onto Newstart (the Australian version of Universal Credit), already a below poverty payment, and expected to survive an extended period when many are already struggling is an absurd idea, says the ACTU.
This is not only a policy laced with cruel indifference for struggling Australian workers, it is also a reckless public health strategy.
3.3 million Australian workers in jobs that offer no access to paid leave are facing the prospect of having to decide whether to try surviving without enough income to make ends meet if they should have to self-isolate or place themselves or others at risk by going to work even if they have symptoms.
In the event of their workplace shutting down during the pandemic or an economy-wide lockdown, these workers will be left in poverty.
With its stimulus measures, the Morrison government has once again told Australia’s casual and insecure workers to fend for themselves.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said on Monday: ‘In order for our country to slow down the spread of the virus and to stop infecting at-risk people, workers will need to make decisions to self-isolate.
‘We must remove the financial penalty for people to make this decision.
‘Newstart payments are far less than what nearly all casual workers are currently paid, so the financial penalty remains.
‘This announcement by the Prime Minister falls far short of what is required. Public health concerns must be put first, this response fails to do so.
‘We have seen some of Australia’s most trusted brand names offer support to their entire workforce, including casuals, yet the Morrison government is refusing to properly support the 3.3 million Australian workers with no guaranteed access to paid leave.
‘We’ve seen the Morrison government go from ignoring casual and contract workers to suggesting they should have been putting aside money just in case there was a pandemic to now putting them on poverty-level welfare payments.
‘It is not good enough and we will keep fighting to get paid special leave for as many as possible.’
One in three Australian workers have no access to paid leave.
McManus insisted: ‘The most important thing for public health is to ensure everyone knows that if they have to self-isolate that there is not going to be a financial penalty for them and their family.
‘If working people are forced to choose between going to work sick or being able to pay their bills and feed their families then we are creating a disaster scenario for public health.’
‘While the national employment standards provide 10 days sick leave for ongoing employees there are many workers who will not be able to spend two weeks in self-isolation and keep their household income at their current levels.
‘In addition to those who will lose out because they have to self-isolate many employers are standing down workers and considering letting people go due to the economic impacts of Covid-19.
‘All workers need assurance that they will get through the pandemic without losing out on their entitlements.’
The United Workers Union (UWU), representing 150,000 Australian workers in a range of essential industries, has also demanded action.
UWU State Secretary in Western Australia Carolyn Smith said now is the time for all Australians to get behind the workers who keep communities running.
Smith said: ‘Our members’ work reaches millions of people every single day of their lives.
‘It is working people who are on the frontline of the coronavirus threat.
‘We need significant back-up and support – from employers and from government – to deal with this global health crisis.’
The union is calling for the following key commitments to be put in place immediately to ensure workers are safe and don’t lose out under this global health crisis:
- If workers cannot work due to coronavirus risks, they should not lose pay;
- The Federal Government needs to support workers and the community;
- Workers must be entitled to avoid unsafe workplace situations;
- Workers must be consulted about employer response to coronavirus;
- Workers falling into special categories (including higher risk and carers) must be supported;
- Workers must be supplied with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Smith said the union would be writing to hundreds of employers and politicians, reminding them of their responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of workers.
‘Already we have seen employers and the Federal Government try to shirk their role in supporting our workers through these challenging times.
‘Any Federal Government assistance package must be targeted to supporting workers, including casual and low paid.
‘Instead Scott Morrison and the Federal Coalition is focused on helping big business get out of paying sick leave.
‘Airport workers have had to fight for PPE and had their shifts cut, while cleaners have been asked to clean the Diamond Princess cruise ship without any safety information.
‘We want to reassure our members that ensuring they are safe and fairly paid is our top priority.’
UWU members work in frontline industries including education, aged care, health care, emergency services, cleaning, security, logistics and farms.
- Thousands of health workers in Western Australia (WA) have won a decade-long fight against healthcare privatisation, with the government announcing key Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) services would be brought back into public hands.
The UWU hospital support staff – which include cleaners, catering staff and orderlies – have welcomed the winding back of Serco’s $4.3 billion hospital contract, which would deliver better jobs for more than 600 workers and better care for the community.
Health worker and union member Phyllis de Gois was among thousands who stood together and spoke out against the privatisation of health services in WA.
‘I am thrilled about what our campaign has achieved – it’s better for the patients, better for the public, and better all round.
‘The hospitals we work in belong to the community. We never want to see a government try and outsource our public health again.’
UWU WA State Secretary Carolyn Smith said the move is a turning point for workers across the country who face threats of privatisation every single day.
‘The courageous effort of our members to stand up and take a stand against the privatisation of health services has built the case for showing Serco the door.
‘The multiple failures of Serco show the risk of putting company profits ahead of the public good.
‘This privatised system of cutting corners has left cleaners, caterers and orderlies demoralised and unable to provide the quality of care they know patients deserve.
‘Today’s decision is a victory for working people who stood up for the high standard of health care our community expects and deserves.
‘Our members are pleased the State Government has listened and will bring hospital services under public control.
‘This is recognition that privatisation in our hospitals doesn’t work. It never has, and never will.’
Serco is a multinational services company with an appalling track record in the health sector.
The union’s members at Fiona Stanley Hospital have led the fight against Serco’s financial mismanagement, understaffing and operational stuff-ups which have marred its six-year tenure with the hospital ever since it opened in 2014.
Some examples include:
- Parliamentary inquiries into Serco’s management of FSH services found the contract was established with no cost benefit analysis, no assessment of clinical and other risks and poorly-scoped financial modelling;
- The initial project cost blew out by $330 million dollars, including $151 million in IT costs and paying Serco to run a hospital that had no patients;
- Senior Medical staff resigned from the Hospital due to Serco’s delivery of ‘non-clinical’ services;
- An 82 year old woman left for four days without food waiting for a medical test;
- Blood and bone found on surgical instruments that Serco was meant to have had properly sterilised;.
- The contract meant that hospital porters ‘couldn’t touch patients’, requiring an additional 57 staff having to be hired to stop doctors fetching patients themselves;
• Workers reporting having to sneak food out to patients because there was no funding to give them a dessert.