Workers and COVID19 survey

Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released some research into workers and COVID19. It is not peer-reviewed and there will certainly be much more research into the disruption and personal and occupational responses to the coronavirus disruption over the next few months. The survey results do not specifically analyse occupational health and safety (OHS) issues but there are clues to future considerations.

The media release, understandably, discusses the changed employment status or arrangements. The OHS hazards associated with precarious work are well-established and the survey illustrates the extent of precarity in Australian workplace, so mental health issues are going to come to the fore as government-imposed isolation continues and/or businesses reopen.

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The health and safety of working from home

Idealised image of what Working From Home could look like.

The second of a series of articles based on support from academics at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) focusses on the occupational health and safety (OHS) issues related to Working From Home (WFH), a situation that many Australians face at the moment.

SafetyAtWorkBlog put some questions on WFH to ACU and Dr Trajce Cvetkovski, senior lecturer in the Peter Faber Business School and below are his thoughts.

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Safety opportunity from calamity

Australia is starting to settle into a state of stability as the various restrictions on life and work become more consistent. This has also allowed for some to start thinking about the recovery phase – the “bridge”, the awakening, whatever one wants to call it – to reconsider what we think of work and workplaces and our expectations are for the future. Do we resurrect the BC (Before COVID19) employment and economic models or work differently? There is an opportunity to steer work and business into a more sustainable direction that reduces physical and psychosocial harm and regains productivity and profitability. The structures, models and criteria already exist.

And, perhaps, we should incorporate the values recommended by actor, Matthew McConaughey.

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The next gig job must be safer and healthier

A man in different kind of occupations. Credit:
bowie15

A lot of focus is currently on casual workers as their jobs disappear due to the responses to the COVID19 coronavirus. Australia has around 2.6 million of them and there are many more workers who may be classified as Part Time but operate on uncertain rosters and are, in reality, as precarious as casual employees. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is struggling to address the hazards presented by modern variations of precarious work, such as gig economy workers, because it, and government economic and employment policy more generally, is structured on the assumption of Full Time Employment (FTE) with work occurring mainly from nine to five, on weekdays with weekends off.

Consideration of precarious worker OHS may seem a lesser priority at the moment as many of us are quarantined or quarantine by choice but at some point, hopefully, within the next twelve months, business will resume. However, that business model and structure is unlikely to be the same. Indeed, it should not be same as the risk profile for all businesses and the community generally has changed. So, let’s have a look at some of the recent thinking about precarious work and the OHS risks so that we can build a better, safer model.

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OHS and wage theft

Australia is several years into a scandal of underpayment of workers referred to, by some, as wage theft. Occupational health and safety (OHS) would not normally figure in a wages and industrial relations (IR) scandal but the scandal has a legitimate OHS context.

The previous, and ongoing, scandals are not going to be summarised in this article as there are plenty of articles elsewhere in lots of different media but there is a common thread in many of the scandals. Workers are not being paid for some of the time they spend at work, work that is commonly described as unpaid overtime. This unpaid overtime extends the working day, for a variety of reasons, and OHS may not accommodate these additional hours (as they are “not official”) or OHS may be “stretched”, or risks downplayed.

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