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WMWA demands commitment from employers on COVID-19 outbreak

March 19, 2020

The WMWA, an alliance between the CFMEU and the AWU, has called on companies to assure workers in the Pilbara that they will be protected from the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton and CFM-MEU President Tony Maher issued a joint release, saying “The big mining companies have done well in recent years and it is now time for those companies to help cushion the blow of COVID-19 impacts on mine workers.”

The WMWA is calling on mining companies to adopt the following proposals:

• Self-isolation as a result of Government edict: Where a worker is required to undergo self-isolation by reason of Government edict (such as that concerning recent overseas travel), the mine worker’s employer should pay that worker as if at work for any rostered shifts not undertaken because of self-isolation.

Where the affected employee is a labour hire casual employee, the mine operator should fund the rostered shifts not worked, either directly to the employee or via the labour hire provider.

• Self-isolation as a result of potential exposure to COVID-19: Where an employee is required to self-isolate because he or she may have been exposed to COVID-19 because of close proximity to an infected person, the mine worker’s employer should pay that worker for any rostered shifts not undertaken because of self-isolation. Where the affected employee is a labour hire casual employee, the mine operator should fund the rostered shifts not worked.

• Where the employer/mine operator requires a medical clearance regarding COVID-19: In circumstances where an employer or a mine operator requires a medical certificate clearing an employee of having contracted COVID-19, then the employer/mine operator should bear the cost of the medical appointment and any lost time reasonably incurred in obtaining the clearance.

• Absence from work due to illness caused by COVID-19: In these circumstances all employees should be afforded two weeks’ special leave. After the two weeks of special leave the normal practice should apply. This means that the employee’s normal personal/carer’s leave entitlements should be available.

Where an employee does not have sufficient personal/carers leave entitlement, the employer should provide additional personal/carers leave, either as an ex gratia benefit or as an advance on future personal/carers leave entitlements.
In circumstances where an employee is a labour hire casual, the mine operator/client should fund the rostered shifts not worked, either directly to the employee or via the labour hire provider.

• Stand down due to whole or partial closure of the mine: The unions say minimum conditions should include the mine operator paying its own employees and the employees of labour hire contractors a special leave payment equivalent to the rostered shifts lost where the stand-down is for a defined period of 14 days or less.

In circumstances where the stand down is indefinite employees should be invited to utilise leave entitlements as an alternative to stand down with loss of pay. In circumstances where an employee does not have sufficient leave entitlements, the mine operator should offer the employee the option of taking annual leave in advance as an alternative to stand down without pay.

• Quarantine of employees at a mining camp: In circumstances where such isolation is unavoidable, the unions argue that the mine operator should ensure that the workers confined to camp have access to telephone and video-call facilities at no cost to themselves. They say the mine operator should put in place activities and services designed to alleviate the mental stress of the quarantined workers, including by providing professional counselling services, exercise and entertainment options.

The period of quarantine must be treated as work time for all purposes and employees must be given an equivalent time off from rostered work after quarantine before returning again to the mine site for work.

Mr Maher and Mr Walton said they believed the “above proposals are both reasonable and proportionate.”

“We are prepared to work with employers in the industry to ensure that the mining industry continues to be a driving force of the Australian economy into the future.

“At this time, however, it is important that workers are given as much certainty as possible so that we can meet this challenge together as a community.”

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