Dandenong laundry contractor Spotless has today withdrawn its Fair Work application to cease industrial action, after workers stood up for their safety following multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases at the site.
The withdrawal of this s 418 application does not solve the underlying safety and public health issues at the site but is a necessary step towards doing so. The Department of Health and Human Services have attended the workplace today but the Union has not yet been consulted by the Department. It is understood the investigation is ongoing.
Workers who had been in close contact with the positive cases had previously been directed by the employer to attend work on Tuesday and Wednesday, but have now been directed to quarantine for 14 days. The Union understands Spotless will make workers use up their annual leave, personal leave or take unpaid time off work if they are not eligible for leave.
There is no indication Spotless will pay pandemic leave, although the Union maintains that the employer should do so considering the circumstances.
Quotes attributable to Godfrey Moase, Executive Director, United Workers Union:
“For many employers, the Fair Work Act is a hammer in their hands and workers are mere nails to be put back in their place. What we are dealing with here though is a public health emergency and an immediate threat to workplace safety.
“Low-wage migrant workers have done the right thing by taking a stand for the safety of themselves, their families and the entire community.
“The question now is who pays. Time and time again, corporations shift their responsibilities to stop the spread onto low-wage migrant workers; many of whom don’t qualify for JobKeeper or JobSeeker.
“Spotless Group Holdings are a multi-billion transnational company who get a lot of public contracts. They can afford to give back by making sure the workers who are now quarantining get paid.
“They could afford to hire an expensive legal team to try to tell workers yesterday they had to come back to work. They can afford to pay the leave.”
Attribute to a Spotless Dandenong laundry worker who must remain anonymous:
“A majority of workers at Spotless Dandenong are newly arrived migrants and we live in extended family households with elderly parents and in-laws with pre-existing health conditions. Our biggest concern is the health of our family. No one should be put in a position where we have been made to choose between the health and safety of our families, and being able to put food on the table.
“My husband works at another large factory in the area. If I get sick and expose him to Covid, then he will carry it to his workplace and then more people will get sick. We have a moral obligation to not be the reason people in our community get sick.”
“Spotless originally told us that only the workers in the same team [as the person who tested positive] need to get tested. But the person moved around everywhere and so many of us interacted with them. We are also sharing a lot of equipment and surfaces.”