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covid-19 omicron information for aged care workers

You UNION is here to help you stay informed and safe at work.

Tragically, COVID is out of control in aged care facilities across the country despite the best efforts of Aged Care workers to protect their residents. 

Your union is here to support you where we can, and we have collated a number of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that we have been receiving here to help keep all Aged Care workers informed about their health and safety rights at work. 

 

frequently asked questions

Information, PPE and testing

Your employer should be giving you all the information you need to ensure you can do your job safely. This includes:

 

  • Training and information on the appropriate use of PPE
  • Notifications about positive Covid-19 cases amongst residents and staff within your workplace
  • Information about who your Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is, and how you can contact them

PPE is essential to keeping aged care workers safe during this fast-spreading Omicron outbreak.

 

UWU believes that ALL aged care workers – including personal care workers, nurses, cleaners, kitchen/hospitality staff, laundry staff and lifestyle/recreation assistants – should have ready access to appropriately sized, high-grade PPE, including P2/N95 masks, gloves, gowns, and eye protection.

Staff can refuse to perform work where there is an imminent risk to theirs or others health and safety if appropriate PPE isn’t available or they feel unsafe. If a staff member has concerns, they may also be able to raise it with their HSR or contact their Union for advice.

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) should be provided by your employer. Workers, residents, and visitors should be able to test as often as needed.

 

Currently, there are supply issues with RATs, but workers should not be paying out of their own pockets to meet workplace testing requirements. UWU members are campaigning the Federal Government to make RATs free and readily available.

Commonwealth Aged Care Bonus Payments - updated 09/02/22

NOTE: Due to this policy being announced on the run and with minimal detail, the below contains the publicly available information at the time of writing. More information can be expected in the coming days and this will be updated accordingly. 

“Bonus” payments of “up to” $400 to aged care workers on two occasions before the federal election in recognition of their “dedication to caring for vulnerable older Australians in these difficult times.” The total cost of the payments is put at $210 million.

People employed in government subsidised residential aged care and home care, although those working in home care receive a lower rate. Eligible workers are all those engaged in clinical care, direct care, food provision and cleaning in these settings. The Health Department’s advice is that lifestyle assistants and coordinators or therapy assistants may be eligible if their work involves direct care or direct client contact which should be assessed by providers on a case-by-case basis. We understand that this should be most people in those classifications. We are currently seeking clarity on those working for the Transitional Aged Care Programme.  

The first payment will be made to workers employed in aged care on February 28 and the second to those employed on April 28.

Aged care providers must apply for the payment and pass it on to their employees. Employers (aged care providers and agencies that provide relevant staff) will be able to apply from March 1 on behalf of eligible workers and will then pay the bonus to those workers. Employers are being encouraged to pay the bonus at the time they lodge the application.

You have to work at least three hours in one of the four weeks leading up to each of the two dates to receive any payment for that date.

The payments will be prorated based on the highest number of hours worked in a single week out of the four weeks leading up to the specified dates. It will be calculated as follows (for each instalment)

Highest hours worked in any of prior 4 weeks

Home Care

Residential Care

3 – 15

$150

$200

16 – 30

$240

$320

> 31

$300

$400

No. We have not yet seen any terms and conditions which apply to these payments but this is unlikely to be compliant. The money is for the purpose of paying individual staff members at the rates set out. If an employer wishes to additionally pay a bonus to other staff, there would be nothing to stop them from doing so.

Every worker who is entitled to the payment must receive the money they are entitled to in full. 

Close Contacts

Close contact rules vary state by state.

 

In South Australia, close contacts who are essential workers (including aged care workers) are exempt from isolation and may continue to work after a negative test result, if they are asymptomatic.

 

In Queensland, close contacts who are essential workers (including aged care workers) are exempt from isolation and may continue to work after a negative test result, if they are asymptomatic and fully vaccinated.

 

In Western Australia, close contacts must follow the directive of the WA Department of Health, which may include having to isolate and test. Currently, there is no general exemption to isolation for aged care workers.

Please continue to check the relevant state government directives as the below guidelines can change regularly. 

 

Presently, the following applies:

QLD

Aged care workers may leave quarantine to do their job provided that meet the following requirements::

·       They have no COVID-19 symptoms (asymptomatic);

  • Must be tested on day 6 of quarantine period and if symptoms present;
  • Must wear a mask indoors, as well as outdoors when unable to physically distance;
  • Must travel directly to and from work (except to refuel) using private transport;
  • Must physically distance from other people until end of quarantine period; and
  • Must be vaccinated (two doses of the vaccine, and a booster shot – if applicable).

 

SA

Aged care workers may be issued with work permissions to attend work while isolating subject to conditions:

·       Must be separated from the person who is positive with COVID (specifically including if this is a household or social close contact outside the workplace) and the 7-day quarantine period commences at the date of last contact with the COVID case unless the COVID case is a resident of the Residential Aged Care Facility in question.

·       Must be fully vaccinated (including a third dose if eligible).

·       Must be completely free of all COVID-symptoms (including headache, sore throat, running nose, muscle aches and pains, fever/chills, cough, vomiting/diarrhoea, loss of taste or loss of smell).

·       Must have undertaken a PCR test prior to returning to work (can return whilst awaiting PCR result as long as that day’s RAT is negative and may continue if PCR negative).

·       Must maintain quarantine at all times when not onsite at work.

·       Must complete a RAT at the start of every shift they attend inclusive of a daily RAT for days 1-7 since last contact with a case. All RATs must be negative.

·       If symptoms develop, must not attend work and must obtain a PCR test immediately (work permissions will be suspended until the PCR returns negative).

·       Must not use public transport or other forms of shared transport to travel to work.

·       Must wear the highest level of PPE whilst at work (including fit checked or fit tested N95).

·       Must take meal and any other breaks alone and preferably in an outside space.

·       Only undertake critical work functions – this does not include for example staff meetings, staff social functions or professional development activities.

NT

An aged care worker may leave isolation to perform their essential work if the worker:

·       has no symptoms of COVID-19;

·       is vaccinated;

·       is required to attend the workplace to perform their essential work;

·        submits to or self-administers RAT testing procedure, and returns a negative result, before entering the workplace for the first time each day; and

·       wears a mask and maintains 1.5 metres physical distance where possible

WA

If the staff member has been informed they are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days, they must remain in isolation and follow the instructions of the contact tracing team.

Covid-19 positive cases

We would expect an employer to let staff know about any COVID positive residents, so that staff can ensure that they are able to work safely. Where working with COVID positive residents, sufficient changes in PPE should be provide, as well as training.

Please contact the Union for assistance if you have any concerns about being able to work safely with COVID positive staff or residents. 

Staff are generally not able to refuse to work with COVID positive residents.

However, an employer should take additional precautions if there is a confirmed case in the facility. This includes the provision of adequate PPE and training to ensure staff members are able to safely work with COVID-19 positive residents.  

If a staff member or their family member is immunocompromised, it may be reasonable to request to not work with COVID positive residents, but it will depend on the circumstances.

Generally, staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, and have completed the required isolation period, can return to work when they have fully recovered and have met the criteria for clearance from isolation.

The criteria may vary depending on circumstances of the workplace and states and territories may manage clearance from isolation differently.

At present these requirements are as follows (but please double check your State or Territory health website and/or follow any directives you receive):

QLD

You must isolate for 7 days (provided you have not had symptoms for the last 48 hours, or if the only remaining symptom is a very mild dry cough which is persistent but not getting worse).

Alternatively, 10 days (since the date of your positive test result).

See here.

SA

You must isolate for 10 days. See here.

NT

If you are vaccinated, you must isolate for 7 days (the positive test result day is day 0, and isolation ends at 12 noon on day 7). If you still have symptoms, you must remain isolation until day 10.

If you are unvaccinated due to a medical exemption, you must isolate for 10 days. If you still have symptoms, you must remain in isolation until day 14. See here.

WA

You must remain in isolation until you are cleared by WA Health. See here.

Additional shifts

Staff may be asked by an employer to vary their work hours of shift lengths.

Shift lengths and hours of work must still comply with the applicable provisions in your Award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment.

This means that:

  • An employer must also comply with the required notification of roster changes in your award or agreement.
  • If you are part-time and have set hours of work, your employer may not be able to vary these hours without your agreement (although this may depend on what your contract/Agreement says).
  • An employer and employee may agree to any changes (so if you want to work the additional hours you can).
  • Your employer is still required to pay appropriate penalty rates and overtime rates.
  • You must be provided with the minimum break between shifts.

You have a right to refuse overtime, where the request to work overtime is unreasonable. 

If you If you are unsure, contact the Union for assistance.

Leave

There may be COVID leave and payments available in each State and Territory. A full list of current support available can be found on: https://unitedworkers.org.au/covid-19-information/ 

An employer may be able to cancel the staff member’s annual leave that had been approved, in order to cope with a staffing crisis etc. /

Whether an employer is able to cancel annual leave will be a question of whether the cancellation is reasonable in all of the circumstances. An employer should consider the impact on the staff affected, including costs incurred for planned holidays, and provide sufficient notice.

For employees working in private aged care facilities, an employer is not unreasonably able to refuse a request for annual leave. This will be a matter of weighing up the needs of the employee versus the needs of the employer to meet staffing requirements.

For employees of State Government aged care run facilities, there may be public health directives that require employees to return to work sooner.

If you have questions about your circumstances or need assistance, contact the Union.

 

The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is available through Services Australia as a lump sum payment to assist workers who can’t work because:

  • You must self-isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19
  • You’re caring for someone who has to self-isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19

You must also meet both of the following requirements to be eligible:

  • You’ve lost at least 8 hours or a full day’s work
  • You have liquid assets of less than $10,000 on the first day of the period you’re claiming for

For each 7-day period of self-isolation, quarantine or caring, you could receive:

  • $450 if you lost at least 8 hours or a full day’s work, and less than 20 hours of work
  • $750 if you lost 20 hours or more of work

To see the full eligibility requirements and to apply go to: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/pandemic-leave-disaster-payment

In South Australia, a single payment of $300 is available for eligible people who need to quarantine while awaiting a COVID-19 test result. For further information on eligibility and to apply go to: https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/health-community/financial-support-for-individuals

In Western Australia, a single payment of $320 will be available from 5 February 2022 to workers who have been directed to quarantine while awaiting a COVID-19 test result and do not have access to paid leave or other income. For further information on eligibility see: https://www.wa.gov.au/government/publications/covid-19-coronavirus-test-isolation-payment

Further Information

Aged care residents can use Covid-19 emergency leave to take temporary leave from their residential care facility without losing their place. Emergency leave is available until 30 June 2022 and further information about it can be found here.

Rules about visitors vary state by state and change regularly.

In South Australia, adult visitors must be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 or have a medical exemption. There are also limitations on the number of visitors per day. For further information see: https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/conditions/infectious+diseases/covid-19/response+and+restrictions/aged+care+facility+visitation+in+south+australia+-+covid-19

In Queensland, adult visitors must be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 or be in an exemption category. For further information see: https://www.qld.gov.au/health/conditions/health-alerts/coronavirus-covid-19/current-status/public-health-directions/aged-care

In Western Australia, family members can visit but must wear masks. Further information can be found here: https://www.wa.gov.au/government/covid-19-coronavirus/covid-19-coronavirus-what-you-can-and-cant-do

If your question is not answered here and you are a union member, please get in touch with your local state office. You can find the details here

 

TAKE ACTION TO CHANGE AGED CARE

Aged Care was already in crisis pre-COVID. But the pandemic has seen conditions go from terrible to horrifying. Join with fellow workers and take a stand to fight for a better sector, because residents and workers deserve better! 


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