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Industry body demands sick leave for casuals who catch coronavirus

BHP work site
BHP work site

Casual mine workers should receive an income even if they are unable to work due to COVID-19, an industry peak body has said.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) wants the Federal Government to introduce new rules that oblige mining companies to pay sick leave to casual mine workers if they catch the coronavirus (covid-19) and have to be quarantined for 14 days.

Casualisation blamed

ACTU believes the workforce has relied too much on casualisation and the government needs to stop preventing “ordinary Australians” from receiving sick leave because they have to stay at home for weeks without income.

“Rather than throwing its full weight behind ensuring workers are supported through the emergency, it has been revealed that [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison is spending taxpayers money to fight court battles that would strip ordinary Australians of their sick pay,” it said in a public statement.

Sick leave guaranteed

The union believes the government could follow the United Kingdom’s policy to provide sick leave to any casual worker diagnosed with covid-19 within the country.

“This crisis is just bringing forward the day’s struggles anyway for casual workers, the fact that they do not know how many hours they are going to get and be let go at anytime,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus told the Special Broadcasting Service. “The fact that people may have to stay at home for weeks on end without pay, when they have got no leave.”

Across all industries more than 3 million Australians are employed in so-called insecure work on either a part-time, casual or contract basis. This means one in three employees do not have access to entitlements including sick leave according to the broadcaster.

Crisis talks underway

The mining sector recently held a crisis meeting to discuss how to minimise the risk of infected fly-in fly-out workers bringing covid-19 to regional communities.

BHP confirmed it has started quarantining mine workers who appear to be suffering from the flu. No workers have tested positive so far.

Fortescue Metals Group has urged its mine workers to declare their overseas travel plans to management and remain in quarantine, if they visited any country affected by the covid-19 outbreak. A Christmas Creek Iron Ore Mine worker, who complained about suffering from symptoms that were similar to those of covid-19 after returning from abroad, tested negative.

The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjar local government area has already started asking residents to declare in writing whether they visited countries with high rates of covid-19 or come into contact with anyone suffering from the virus. The remote community believes covid-19 would be “fatal” if it reached Central Australia.

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Federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter will meet with industry representatives on March 10 to discuss a response to covid-19. He has asked employers to decide whether to pay casual staff sick leave entitlements.

“We encourage employers and employees to agree to sensible arrangements for their staff,” Porter said in a statement according to the broadcaster. “We will be working closely with unions, employer groups and others … to ensure responsibilities are well understood.”

The Federal Government has allocated $1 billion to fight the virus and already made $100 million immediately available to public health services.

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