As parts of the world begin to emerge from the disruption and lockdowns of COVID19 some academics and experts are advising that the future must be built on the past but should not seek to replicate it. Over a dozen prominent, global academics (listed below) have written a discussion paper to be published in the Economic & Labour Relations Review (ELRR) in June 2020 entitled “The COVID-19 pandemic: lessons on building more equal and sustainable societies” which includes discussion on workplace relations and factors affecting mental health at work. These big picture discussions are essential in the development of strategies and policies for the post-COVD19 world and occupational health and safety (OHS) has a legitimate, and some would say unique, voice.
A group of retail associations in Australia has released a very curious COVID-19 Retail Recovery Protocol.
All shops and malls are workplaces and must comply with occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. A small embarrassment in these protocols is that although it acknowledges that further guidance may be available from workplace health and safety authorities, it provides no links to that COVID19 guidance and gets Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) name wrong! It does not inspire confidence and all that was needed was a single hyperlink to the SWA guidance developed specifically for the Retail Industry.
Less than 12 hours after not mentioning Safe Work Australia’s COVID19 occupational health and safety (OHS) guidance, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Michaelia Cash, issues a media release, in conjunction with the Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter, saying that
“The Safe Work Australia (SWA) website has been transformed into a centralised information hub, which can be easily searched using a handy content filter to find work health and safety guidance relevant to 23 specific industries.”
On May 1 2020, Australia’s Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash, spoke on breakfast television to discuss what the government considers to be a “COVID safe workplace”. Her advice to Australian employers was nothing more than understand your business, assess your risks and apply the controls, as if employers did not already know!?
“… businesses need to examine what industry am I in; what are the restrictions that are still going to be in place in my particular workplace; and, do I have that action plan, that set of best practice principles ready to go so when I’m given the green light I can open my doors and Australians can come back to me with confidence knowing I have a COVID safe workplace.”
Below is some interesting occupational health and safety (OHS) issues that have appeared over the last week that I don’t have the time to explore in the usual depth but are useful.
Danger Money appears
David Marin-Guzman reports that unions are asking for an extra
“$5 an hour to compensate [disability workers] for risks in assisting clients suspected of having coronavirus.”
The reporter’s Twitter account justifiably describes this as “danger money“, an issue forecast as likely by this blog recently. That such an offer is made by the Health Services and United Workers Unions is disappointing but unions can do little else as the employers have the primary OHS responsibilities. What such action also does though is let the employers off lightly from their OHS duties to continuously improve workplace health and safety. The $5 danger money may be cheaper than implementing other risk control options but OHS laws have a process for this type of decision making that has Cost as the last option to be considered. Allowances do not reduce worker safety risks and they can undermine future OHS initiatives.
The COVID19, business disruption surveys keep coming. This time from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). On 25 April 2020 released its Business Conditions Survey Report 2020. which was
“… undertaken between 30 March and 17 April, and involved 1,497 businesses across all states and territories.
This overlaps the April 9 survey by the Australian Council of Trade Unions which had a similar sample size and data limitations.
The topicality and importance of many issues highlighted in early 2020 have disappeared. One of them was the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, has released the speech she intended to give at the, now cancelled, Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations. Lyons said this about sexual harassment and employers: