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United Workers Union welcomes the ACT Government’s announcement to fund workers’ rights training for the hospitality sector and a hardship fund for workers without annual or sick leave.

Workers forced to quarantine due to coronavirus will be able to apply for payments of up to $1,500. Clarification is still needed on whether the fund will cover the two days required for COVID-19 testing and employers should fill this gap if it does not.

Lyndal Ryan, United Workers Union ACT spokesperson said, “All workers right now should be imagining what their employer would need to do if a COVID-19 case was found in their workplace. Most workers don’t know what to expect from their employer, or what their rights are in that situation.”

“Ensuring workers know their rights and can keep each other safe to prevent and deal with an infection is critical for our community’s safety. Government-supported training will equip workers to protect Canberra in the event of a second wave.”

Since the hospitality industry reopened, employers have tried to recoup lost income from the shutdown period by ignoring capacity limits and forcing workers into unsafe conditions.

The public is trusting venues to do the right thing for their safety, but workers know that is not always the case. The measures the ACT Government announced today will support workers to keep venues safe and encourage businesses not to risk safety for profit.

For workers without the privilege of working from home, a return to work has presented an inevitable choice between taking the risks associated with increased contact with the public or forsaking income and the possibility of losing their jobs entirely.

Adelaide Bragias, who works as a barista and is a United Workers Union member, said, “When the pandemic threw my workplace into disarray, my shifts had to be massively cut. Waiting months for JobSeeker meant every rent payment came straight out of my dwindling savings.

“When the industry began to re-open, I was eager to work, but scared for my health – I’m in an at-risk health group and have felt the community rush to return to normalcy at the risk of our safety.

“Every hour at work is another hour that I interact with a team of co-workers and hundreds of customers, unsure if one of them may be sick but not saying anything. You can do the math to see how quickly that adds up in a week.

“I’m glad the ACT Government has listened to workers and my union about what we need for our safety.”

Many migrant workers, students, and young workers, who are overwhelmingly employed as casuals, have been cut out of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and are under financial pressure to work despite the risks imposed by employers and customers. Workers should not have to choose between getting tested and isolating, and paying rent.

The community has been quick to publicly thank frontline workers for their effort but has haphazardly supported workers in person, by following capacity limits and seating times, and practicing social distancing.

The situation in Victoria is an example of what could happen in any community where precautions are not implemented correctly, and workers are not empowered to take action to keep workplaces safe.

United Workers Union’s recommendations are outlined in the RE-OPENING THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY position paper here.