Unions move to defend workers and community from cost of pandemic

Contributed by Joe Montero

Unions have met and discussed how to react to the ongoing health crisis and deepening economic crisis being felt by working people. Those they represent include health workers and others contributing o the wellbeing of the community. If employers and the government fail the call for an urgent response, industrial action is on the cards.

The unions are not alone. They are part of the growing community dissatisfaction over how the Morrison government is managing the pandemic and the economy. Morrison and his gang have turned their backs on the battlers who are losing incomes and getting sick.

When Omicron arrived, we were told that it is mild and will not have a serious impact. It proved to bring more hardship, illness, and death. And the support systems to help people in these tough times are inadequate at best. Even health care workers are often being left high and dry, despite their efforts for us all putting them in harm’s way.

There is a sense across Australia, that the damage is here for the long haul. Omicron has shaken the confidence that Australia is on top of the pandemic. People are too scared to go out and stay home when they can. Consumer spending has fallen sharply, as the economy falters and incomes to fall behind.

Photo from Gavin Coote/ABC news

Now the government has moved to hand the distribution of the rapid testing kits (RATs) over to the private sector and force people to pay exorbitant prices. Profiteers have hoarded an already inadequate supply, forcing the cost of a single kit through the roof. Up to $100 has been paid for one.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and its affiliates point to the failure of the government to prepare the health system and community and have agreed to approach employers for risk assessments and safety plans, with unions and health and safety representatives.

New measures are needed in the workplace. Free RATs must be provided, they argue, and employers must cover the cost while a price remains, and employers must supply ungraded masks and ensure adequate ventilation.

Business groups have rushed to oppose these measures. The Australian Industry Group, for example, has stated its opposition to free RATs. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has joined in, by claiming that strikes are wrong and calling on Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese to stand against the unions.

Preparations are being made for responses on the job win the union demands. Stop works and banning unsafe practices has been mentioned. Unions are calling on the community to join them, and work for a union-community alliance to force a change in government direction.

Doing this will provide a tremendous opportunity to build alliances involving thousands of Australians and extending the response from the workplace out into the community. When this happens and is organised properly, change it makes a huge difference.

This is what put an end to John Howard, his government and unpopular WorkChoices law that attacked jobs and rights at work. A similar alliance had rallied around the Maritime Union of Australia, fighting to remain on Australia’s waterfront in 1998.

In 2022, the situation is even more serious. As important as this is, it is not just about Covid. The Australian economy is in trouble, wages as loosing their share of the nation’s income, and the proportion of the workforce in insecure work continues to grow.

The pandemic has shown the necessity of government intervention to protect citizens’ livelihood and wellbeing, alongside the generation of community participation.

Instead of this, the Morrison government is delivering more pressure on Medicare, inadequate provision for the health system, contributing to the unaffordability of housing, and continuing to attack those on social security. They are walking over basic human rights and moving towards big brother government.

Defence of workers and the community in the pandemic is part of the bigger battle to make Australia a decent place to live in.

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