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Welcome assistance for ACT temporary visa workers – Federal Government must now follow ACT lead

United Workers Union welcomes the announcement from the ACT Government of free medical care in the ACT public health service for temporary visa workers and international students during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside an emergency fund to help visa workers and international students who have lost their jobs.

The union has been highlighting the heartbreaking situation of migrant members in crisis and welcomes the move to provide medical and financial support to these workers.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg must take notice of these moves in the ACT to assist workers who contribute so much to our economy and community. He must extend this assistance federally during the COVID-19 period. Ensuring free health care helps all workers, protecting public health and welfare across the board.

Lyndal Ryan, United Workers Union ACT spokesperson says, “United Workers Union takes heart from the ACT Government’s response to our calls for action on these issues. No worker should be left behind in the coronavirus crisis. Workers concerned for their health – no matter their employment status – must be able to access public health care at this time. All workers should have their contribution to the economy recognised and be able to reach out for assistance if they have lost their job in this crisis.

“Sadly, United Workers Union has been made aware of visa workers and international students in the ACT who have no money to pay for rent and food. And of workers who are concerned for their health and safety in their workplaces being fearful of the financial pressures of accessing health care if they start to feel unwell with COVID-19 symptoms.

“Our local universities have made millions of dollars from attracting international students and their families to Canberra. Our community has been made more vibrant as a result of the students choosing to live and study here.

“International students and other visa holders have contributed through their work – most of it now recognised as essential – and they have paid taxes. Up until the current crisis few Canberrans knew that tax-paying hospital cleaners, early childhood educators, aged care and disability workers, restaurant and hotel workers – our friends and our neighbours – had no access to Medicare or any other form of government support. Without the ACT Government intervention today, and other measures such as the Jobs for Canberra program, they would simply be left behind just at a time when we are all being urged to stick together to fight this health crisis.”

Karma Dema, temporary visa worker and cleaner says, “This announcement from the ACT Government is a big relief. It has been a huge worry for visa workers and international students if something happens with coronavirus how we are going to manage. Now we can get public medical help in the ACT.

“I thank our union for fighting for this issue to be recognised. In this coronavirus situation we expected the Federal Government to treat everyone the same, but it hasn’t happened. I’m grateful that we’re being treated the same as other workers in the ACT now and can access public health, we’ve been so worried about the costs if we got sick.”

Dorji Tshering from the Australia Bhutan Association of Canberra (ABAC) says, “The impacts of the pandemic to our community members, who are mostly international students, are unprecedented. The announcement from the ACT Government to provide free medical support during the COVID-19 pandemic to temporary visa workers and international students is sincerely appreciated. Such Australian generosity and kindness will be remembered and appreciated by every Bhutanese in Canberra and beyond.

“The ABAC would like to take this opportunity to thank the ACT Government, organisations such as United Workers Union and individuals who stood up to support our community during such difficult times.”

United Workers Union continues to call on the Federal Government to implement the following measures to support migrant workers nationwide:

  1. Guaranteed paid special leave for all workers – permanent, casual, labour hire and contract – who are forced to either self-isolate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or where there is a genuine business downturn or shutdown as a result of the pandemic.
  2. Universal income support for all workers – permanent, casual, labour hire and contract – who lose work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or where there is a genuine business downturn or shutdown as a result of the pandemic.
  3. Implementation of an information ‘firewall’ between health services and the Department of Home Affairs, so that all workers feel safe to get the treatment they need irrespective of visa status.
  4. Immediate end to visa enforcement and detention actions by the Department of Home Affairs targeting essential workers, noting that these actions serve only to force workers in hiding which, at this time, poses a serious risk to their health.
  5. Immediate resolution of status for the thousands of undocumented migrant workers in Australia, to provide them with lawful status to continue their crucial work.
  6. Immediate government funding for adequate community isolation stations for temporary migrant workers to access if they are exposed to the virus, and to ensure Workers do not face out-of-pocket expenses related to COVID-19 testing and treatment.



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