Workforce, Certification & Training

Proposals to protect rail workers as part of COVID-19 response

Unions and industry associations have proposed extra protections for rail workers as the response to COVID-19 continues across Australia.

In December, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), alongside Ports Australia and the Australian Airports Association, highlighted the need for supply chain workers to be given priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, supply chain workers are not included in the priority occupations which will receive the vaccine in phases 1a and 1b of the COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy.

As essential workers, and due to the nature of their work, supply chain workers should be prioritised, said ALC CEO Kirk Coningham.

“Australian supply chain workers have done an amazing job in limiting the spread of the disease. Prioritising vaccine delivery will help ensure the natural vector of the supply chain remains disease free,” he said.

CEO of Ports Australia Mika Gallacher highlighted the risk of infection that supply chain workers have.

“Working on the front line – whether it be on a port, airport, ship, truck or train – means you’re coming into contact with high volumes of people and essential freight. Prioritising the health of supply chain workers helps prioritise the security of the supply chain and safety of Australian communities.”

In New Zealand, a port worker who contracted COVID-19 in October was one of the few cases of community transmission that breached the country’s strict border controls. An earlier outbreak in the country, in August, emerged from a cold storage facility, however the source’s origin is still unclear.

In lieu of a vaccine, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) has called upon the federal government to institute a COVID Vulnerable Worker Payment to cover rail workers who are in a high-risk category to stay at home when an outbreak occurs. This would include those over the age of 70, and others with compromised immune systems.

“That means putting in place a COVID Vulnerable Worker Payment to enable workers who are at high-risk risk to voluntarily stay home during a localised outbreak of COVID-19,” said RTBU national secretary Mark Diamond.

“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.”