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The United Workers Union has become increasingly concerned about COVID-19 positive cases in the food supply chain, including at distribution centres that supply major supermarkets Woolworths, Coles and Aldi.

Last week, workers at a cold storage facility in Erskine Park stopped work following a confirmed COVID-19 case. The company which runs the centre – Scott’s Refrigerated Logistics – was resistant to ceasing operations, putting the whole site at risk of exposure.

NSW Health authorities directed the company to send workers home to get tested and to deep clean the site. The company has subsequently refused to cover the lost wages for the workers affected.

Food distribution centres are staffed largely by workers from Local Government Areas worst impacted by the spread of COVID.

Despite the NSW government introducing mandatory testing for workers in some LGAs, the workers are still able to work while they await a result. This has meant some positive confirmed cases have attended work while infectious.

Very few employers have co-located testing and vaccination at their distribution centres and without clear direction from the NSW Government most employers are taking the cheapest route.

The United Workers Union is calling for the NSW Government to step in and take control of deploying rapid testing and vaccination at major distribution facilities, to ensure employers are required to provide heightened protection for essential workers including adequate Personal Protective Equipment and safety protocols to combat the Delta variant.

The United Workers Union is also joining other unions nationwide to demand better welfare for those who are unable to work and for paid pandemic leave to stymie the spread of COVID-19.

Quotes attributable to United Workers Union Logistics Director Matt Toner

“We cannot leave our public health response to the discretion of employers who are willing to sacrifice the health of their workers in order to keep profits coming in.”

“Last year in Victoria over 80 percent of transmission during the second wave took place in the workplace. This pandemic demands that we protect essential workers as a matter of public interest. Casual workers and those without access to paid leave must not be forced to choose between going to work or going hungry. We cannot have workplace transmission because it not only jeopardises our food supply chain, it also exacerbates the already dire COVID situation in NSW and Australia.

“The lessons we all learned in 2020 are still relevant.  With low vaccination rates we need a health response based on strong and clear lockdowns, and an economic response to give people economic security and the capacity to make good decisions in the interest of all Australians.

“We need paid pandemic leave for all workers to cover any loss of income due to stand down or self-isolation periods, and we need a revised JobKeeper measure paid directly to workers so that employers cannot pocket it as many did last year.”