Australia’s public transport union has launched a national campaign to better protect workers who are at significant risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union is calling for a new COVID-Vulnerable Worker Payment scheme to protect essential workers who are categorised as ‘high-risk’ and therefore not covered by the government’s current safety net programs.
National Secretary Mark Diamond said while progress on an effective vaccine was encouraging, the current outbreak in Greater Sydney and emergence of a new highly infectious variant demonstrated the pandemic was far from over.
“During the pandemic, many of us have embraced zoom meetings and invested in a home office. We’ve been able to stay safe, secure and out of harm’s way,” Mr Diamond said.
“But for many other workers in sectors like health, aged care, emergency services, retail and transport, however, working from home is not an option.
“For workers in those sectors who are also elderly or have pre-existing health conditions, going to work during an outbreak of COVID-19 could mean putting their life on the line.”
Mr Diamond said safety net programs such as JobKeeper, JobSeeker and pandemic leave did not cover the specific needs of COVID-vulnerable workers.
The RTBU has launched an online petition calling on the government to institute a COVID-Vulnerable Worker Payment scheme.
“As the Federal and State Governments plot a path to the end of the pandemic, it is important we make sure no Australian is left behind or left exposed.
“That means putting in place a COVID-Vulnerable Worker Payment to enable workers who are high-risk to voluntarily stay home during a localised outbreak of COVID-19.
“The payment should enable those workers to continue to be paid their full salary by their employer, but it should be funded by the Federal Government.”
Mr Diamond said to be categorised as a ‘COVID-Vulnerable Worker’ and therefore be eligible for the scheme, a worker must fall into one of the categories listed as ‘at risk’ by the Australian Government Department of Health.
Consideration should also be given to extending this to pregnant workers, and workers who have a medical reason for not wearing a mask.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union was created in 1993 through the amalgamation of four of Australia’s oldest unions and represents around 35,000 workers across the rail and public transport industries.