On Tuesday afternoon, workers and union representatives gathered on Zoom to examine the systemic issues surrounding workplace transmission of COVID-19 in New South Wales.
The joint media conference held by the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union and the Living Incomes For Everyone campaign, shed light on the issues facing frontline workers throughout the pandemic.
Supported by the University of Sydney Welfare Action Group, The Living Incomes for Everyone campaign has several demands. These include introducing a $550 a week income support payment, raising all other allowance payments and pensions to a minimum of $1100 per fortnight, and expanding the eviction ban for the length of the pandemic. They also aim to abolish mutual obligation, work for the dole, and the community development program.
Alex Za, a health care worker formerly employed in rapid antigen testing on a construction site, raised concerns about the poorly implemented workplace safety measures. She cited insufficient PPE supply and disposal at the construction site, as well as an overall lack of training for employees. The construction site has since closed for two weeks.
Za highlighted issues surrounding casualisation in the sector, having been employed on an eight-week contract by a testing company, and fired after raising concerns with her union.
“It’s completely on the management to make the information available so workers know what the risks are. There’s no point blaming the individuals,” she said. “Everyone was quite scared of losing their job and didn’t want to approach management on inadequate PPE and training. It’s definitely a lesson I’ve learnt that the only way we can win our demands at work in this pandemic is to fight collectively.”
Hayden Walsh spoke to the fear amongst retail workers coming into contact with the community despite strict no-contact policies.
“The risks are we’re still coming into contact with customers, especially customers who don’t appreciate the lockdown restrictions. We hear a lot about customers who are refusing to wear masks and are generally against lockdowns and want to use retail workers as their personal punching bag,” said Walsh.
Raquel Araya from the Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) called for the Government to reinstate the COVID Supplement of $550.
Despite mutual obligations currently being suspended in Greater Sydney, the AUWU has received complaints from members, who have been told by job agencies that they must still fulfil the requirements. “There’s rampant confusion and it’s not made better by the fact that job agencies simply don’t care,” said Araya.
The Living Incomes for Everyone campaign will continue throughout the second half of the year, with further events scheduled in September.