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Hospo Voice, the hospitality arm of the United Workers Union, has been deluged with reports of COVID-19 spreading across the sector after venues have kept workers in the dark about possible positive cases.

A COVID-19 outbreak at Melbourne’s historic Mitre Tavern involving nine staff occurred after an infected customer had visited the pub. Workers allege that management failed to inform them they may have been exposed to the virus until after staff members began testing positive to COVID-19.

Dangerous “let it rip” policies spearheaded by the Morrison government can be seen to be a green light to irresponsible employers across Australia.

Scott Morrison has also introduced savage cuts and changes to the eligibility rules for Paid Pandemic Leave, abandoning workers when they need support the most, and is refusing to follow the US and UK governments by providing free rapid antigen tests.

Unions are calling for proper income support for all workers and free rapid antigen tests to everyone in the community who needs them and warned workers won’t hesitate to cease work if they face unsafe working conditions.

Comment attributable to Jo Schofield, National President of United Workers Union: 

“This Omicron wave is devastating our community and bludgeoning our healthcare workers, but our Prime Minister is actually making it harder for workers to test and isolate.

“What we are seeing with these hospitality bosses is that they are mirroring Morrison’s “let it rip” approach at a workplace level.  People’s lives are being put at risk, all in the name of maximising profits. It’s disgusting.

“If governments won’t put our safety first, workers won’t hesitate to cease work if they face unsafe working conditions, to protect the health of ourselves, our families and of our coworkers.”

Case studies:

Multiple Mitre Tavern staff tested positive on rapid antigen tests on Friday 24 December and then learned that management had allegedly received a health department text message on Tuesday 21 December that an infected customer visited the pub. However, workers at Mitre Tavern report that management failed to alert all staff of the infected customer.

It is alleged management then failed to inform staff their co-workers had tested positive on rapid antigen tests. Staff believe the reason Mitre Tavern management didn’t inform them of the rapid test results is likely because they wanted to remain fully staffed over the pre-Christmas period and believe this decision may have contributed to more staff getting COVID across the week.

Workers informed the Hospo Voice that they have reported the Mitre Tavern to Victoria’s workplace safety regulator WorkSafe and its Coronavirus Hotline.

In a separate case at a cafe in Melbourne’s outer east with close to 100 staff, workers say the venue’s Christmas party on Monday 20 December may have acted as a super spreader event. Workers told the union that on Tuesday 21 December their colleagues began testing positive and they were told venue management was informed. Workers also told the union the venue allegedly waited until Thursday 23 December to inform all staff they may be infected or have been exposed and advised them to get rapid tests and isolate if positive. The venue continued operating until Christmas Eve before closing for two weeks. Staff estimate at least 50 workers became infected across the days leading up to Christmas.

Meanwhile in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, a hospitality worker at a bar/restaurant has reported being called in to work while isolating and awaiting the results of a PCR test. The worker refused to come in, believing it to be unsafe. Again, Hospo Voice has received reports that management also failed to tell staff at the venue as soon as they became aware that their coworker had become infected. Workers estimate approximately 40 per cent of venue staff ultimately became infected with COVID-19.

Across Australia’s hospitality industry, Hospo Voice members are reporting that employers are:

  • Failing to inform workers of COVID-19 cases in their venues.

  • Forcing workers who are trying to isolate as they await test results to keep working.

  • Denying workers who have COVID-19 symptoms access to sick leave.

  • Low paid casual workers are facing massive reductions in their income while they await COVID test results because they cannot access the Paid Pandemic Leave, due to changes in the Federal Government definition of “close contact”.

Former Mitre Tavern worker Michael Dignam:

“I tested positive on Christmas Eve. I was quite angry about how the venue failed to quickly alert all staff about the growing outbreak. I had quit my job that week, but I kept working to help them out. There was a lack of care for anything else but their profit margins. They didn’t care about our health. It ruined my Christmas, but even more importantly, I became really sick.

“Across the industry right now, there’s a complete disregard for public health. It’s ridiculous. These employers are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep their profits going. It should not be left to the employer whether a worker gets a rapid test. It should be widely available and free.”

Another Mitre Tavern worker says:

“I worked at the Mitre Tavern in the days leading up to Christmas. Then I travelled to Sydney and it was only then that I recorded a positive test result. By that time, I had already passed COVID on to both of my ageing parents.”

A Sydney hospitality worker says:

“I only found out that there were cases at work because we had a group chat for staff and a staff member told us she caught it, and let management know a few days beforehand but we heard nothing from them until she came out and told us.

“I ended up finding out that over 40 per cent of our staff caught COVID, yet we were only told three or four staff had it. They couldn’t even tell us what steps were being put in to prevent the spread.

“I am feeling fine now but I am afraid of the health issues at this venue. I wish they had made some improvements, but I haven’t seen any.”


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