Logistics workers reveal ‘horrific’ toll of Omicron supply chain crunch
Stressed transport and logistics workers claim employers are telling them to breach quarantine rules and drive trucks and buses while sick with Covid-19, as the supply chain struggles with major disruption caused by Omicron.
The Transport Workers’ Union surveyed almost 2500 of its members to bolster its case before writing to major retailers, manufacturers and state governments to demand safety improvements for workers they employ.
About 96 per cent of workers said they wanted access to free rapid antigen tests to keep working, while 90 per cent said they didn’t want to work with colleagues who were close contacts of people with the virus.
The poll heard concerns including that close contacts were not asked to take tests before returning to work, workplaces were not cleaned after employees tested positive, and some staff lost pay or were criticised for fulfilling isolation requirements.
TWU national assistant secretary Nick McIntosh says employers are under “horrific” pressure from “the top of the supply chain” to disregard health orders.
“These alarming safety violations will only grow in number and severity if the economic powers overseeing transport contracts do not put a stop to this appalling behaviour in their supply chains,” he said.
A Sydney-based freight driver, who asked not to be named because of fear of reprisal from his workplace, said it felt like his employers “don’t care if we get sick, as long as we can come in and do our job”.
The furloughing of essential workers due to Covid or isolation requirements amid the Omicron wave has badly affected the supply of essential goods, with supermarkets across Australia feeling the crunch.
In response, national cabinet agreed on quarantine exemptions for essential workers who are deemed close contacts and need to attend work, as long as they are asymptomatic and return negative rapid antigen tests.
But the Sydney-based driver, who is currently sick with Covid, said his workplace was taking a lax approach to the rules, with rapid tests almost impossible to come by.
“They actually aren’t requiring us to get a rapid test every day. You can’t even get a hold of them – unless work provides them, which they don’t,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“The government is happy to throw $750 (in the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment) at workers who are off with Covid, but by then it’s too late. I’ve gone to work for three days and I was positive and I just wasn’t showing symptoms.”
The TWU had written to Mr Morrison on several occasions since June to ask about testing regimes for workers, including one letter in September that called on national cabinet to establish a “Covid-safe national transport road map”.
In a follow up letter in October, the union said: “We write urging the federal government to act immediately to secure sufficient national supply of rapid testing kits and implement a subsidy system for transport workers and companies.”
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister Ben Morton wrote back in November, saying rapid antigen tests were the responsibility of state and territory governments.
In recent weeks, unions have been mounting pressure on employers to provide free rapid tests to essential workers, including those in the logistics sector, once supply issues are resolved.
Following a crisis meeting between union leaders on Monday, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus threatened industrial action if employers don’t step up to protect workers from Omicron.
The strike threat sparked a backlash from senior members of the Morrison government and from business groups, with the latter pushing for isolation rules to be wound back even further.
The government has said 10 million RATs will arrive in Australia in the next fortnight, with another 80 million on order.
“Some 200 million RAT tests are now on order, between the federal and state governments and the private sector,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday.
Originally published as Logistics workers reveal ‘horrific’ toll of Omicron supply chain crunch
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