TECHNICAL AND SERVICES BRANCH WEEKLY BULLETIN 2022
21 August 2022
E000 AND COVID CONFUSION
A number of members have contacted me re two confusing aspects of Telstra policy at E000 in Sydney. The main issue was this - While you are not to wear a mask at your workstation, is it mandatory to wear a mask when away from your workstation?
On reviewing the policy, we found it confusing as well.
We wrote to Telstra this week to seek clarification. Our letter is below. Telstra did respond promptly but we still find it confusing. Note these words in one policy.
If you work in our E000 centres and you can't socially distance from others, please continue to wear a mask at work.
This is a request in our view. Yet Telstra say This is not a request. This is a direction.
Telstra then contradict the official policy in their letter by suggesting that
E-000 management has stipulated that employees are required to wear masks when not at their workstation in common areas.
This is totally confusing when read with the words and you can't socially distance in the official policy.
Telstra also helpfully add: Please note that an employee who refuses to follow a reasonable direction may be subject to disciplinary action.
So our advice for the moment. Until we resolve it wear a mask, and make a secret diary note of every occasion where you see a team leader without a mask.
E000 AND COVID CONFUSION - OUR LETTER TO TELSTRA
We are writing re your direction that staff must wear masks when not at their workstation. It appears that no written direction exists. A number of members have complained about being singled out - when no other staff in the building are required to wear a mask.
We have seen the official policy of Telstra. No direction exists. Indeed a special note suggests otherwise. It merely requests that masks be worn. It states:
If you work in our E000 centres and you can't socially distance from others, please continue to wear a mask at work.
You have created a local direction, inconsistent with the official advice, that staff must wear a mask at all times when away from their workstation.
The direction makes no sense. When staff are at work at their workstation, they are not required to wear a mask. Yet they are close to other staff. Other staff and supervisors may walk past or stop to chat, including supervisors, without masks. And only E000 staff are required to undertake daily RAT tests.
Further, no other staff in the building are required to wear a mask. Unlike E000 no other staff in the building are required to undertake a RAT test each day before work.
These other staff encounter E000 staff in lunch rooms, lifts, entrances, car parks and other common areas. The other staff are not required to have RAT tests at all, nor wear a mask anywhere in the building, including in areas frequented by E000 staff.
No Government mandate applies to the area. No Telstra mandate applies. No expert advice has been produced to support the need to wear masks when away from their desks.
One member who left her desk without a mask was publicly berated and humiliated by a team leader. (This does not happen when a supervisor does not wear a mask.)
In these circumstances, we need to advise our members
(a) that there is no direction to wear a mask when socially distant and
(b) while it may otherwise be useful to wear a mask, there is no direction requiring you to wear a mask if not socially distant.
Should you have a different view, please contact me immediately
E000 AND COVID CONFUSION - TELSTRA REPLY
Note - the response deals with other issues where we have not raised a question. We reproduce the whole letter so that we do not change the context.
I refer to your email dated 17 August to Diane Barnett, which I am responding to as the accountable Executive for Telstra's Covid-19 approach.
Telstra's E-000 centres are critical to the well-being of the Australian community. Our E-000 team do a fantastic job and Telstra will not put our people or the broader community at risk by relaxing basic Covid-safety settings that have been effective for some time.
For example, we have made Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) available to our E-000 employees since the first significant wave of the Omicron strain in late December 2021. We also provide other safety equipment to our E-000 people, as required. We will continue to do so and (over the winter months) have reinforced our health and safety guidance given the high rates of Covid-19 infection across Australia over recent times.
Telstra does not resile from its commitment to keep our people safe as far as we possibly can from Covid-19. As you may recall, Telstra was the first Australian company to offer paid pandemic leave to our employees (including to Casuals), something that remains in place today. We also fund and provide for RATs, ensuring in certain settings that they are available at all times.
I note that Telstra's approach appears broadly consistent with the peak union body's call-out to employers and Government generally on 20 July 2022, as Omicron cases surged: ACTU Executive calls on employers to do more as Covid cases surpass peak
There are a number of statements that require correction or clarification in your email:
- Firstly, we update our policy directions regularly, indeed we review them on a daily basis. As you set out, Telstra has stipulated that "If you work in our E000 centres and you can't socially distance from others, please continue to wear a mask.". This is not a request. This is a direction, which has been reinforced by E-000 management and widely accepted by our employees. This direction is based on guidance and advice from Telstra's Safety, Security and Wellbeing team, which has led our Covid-19 response since January 2020.
- Our E-000 employees are required to take RATs before attending work. This minimises infection and helps to keep our centres operating, given our E-000 people perform critical work that cannot be performed from home.
- E-000 management has stipulated that employees are required to wear masks when not at their workstation in common areas, given the challenges of social distancing in such circumstances. This is a common-sense approach in an essential services environment.
- As I am sure you appreciate, whilst daily RATs provide a sound measure of protection, an employee may test negative before a shift but positive after a shift. Wearing masks ensures an extra level of protection for our E-000 people in our critical centres. The minimal inconvenience that wearing a mask might cause at times is less important to Telstra than protecting our E-000 people from Covid-19, particularly where this is coupled with the worst influenza season in years.
- From 20 July until 17 August, we have strongly encouraged all employees who can work from home to work from home. If in the office, our people who can work from home are advised to "always carry a suitable mask.and if you can't socially distance, wear your mask. This includes in places like office lifts, meetings rooms and on public transport."
In summary, Telstra will continue to put the health and wellbeing of our employees first. If you advise your member/s to not wear a mask and/or comply with Telstra's reasonable directions, then that it is a matter for you. It does not change Telstra's approach or objective, which has been the same for the last 2.5 years of the pandemic (i.e., to keep our people as safe as we possibly can from Covid-19).
Please note that an employee who refuses to follow a reasonable direction may be subject to disciplinary action. I sincerely hope that this does not occur based on the advice of a CEPU official to ignore directions. I also note that we have enjoyed a highly constructive relationship with CEPU senior representatives throughout the pandemic and Telstra's expectation is that this will continue to be the case.
MANAGERS BEWARE OF OHS RESPONSIBILITIES
There is an increasing practice to delegate OHS responsibilities to Managers. Beware of your exposure. The WHS Act imposes a positive duty on all managers to create and maintain a safe working environment. If a serious incident occurs in your workplace, you as Manager, and your systems will be the centre of the investigation. Serious penalties can be applied. More importantly, there is the human factor - the injured or deceased worker and their families.
A competent manager in the witness box would be able to demonstrate such systems as:
- An OHS audit was regularly carried out and directions were updated
- A spreadsheet exists identifying which special tasks need particular skills, special equipment, special procedures or extra staff
- A spreadsheet exists naming all staff, their OHS training needs, the training dates and when refresher training is needed.
- A spreadsheet of routine OHS tasks to be undertaken, dates and who is responsible
- An active OHS Committee existed
- Evidence of consideration of possible solutions ranging in the hierarchy from administrative action to removal of a risk.
TECHNICIANS WORKING ALONE IN POST - A SAFETY PROBLEM
Our Vic T&S Branch has complained about the use of one man shifts in Aus Post and their proposal. This is an extract from their complaint.
Firstly, it fails to address the current circumstances. It seeks to resolve and provide solutions to the underlying and ongoing problem which is the lack of staff in these satellite facilities. The same problem exists in all of the western side facilities due to recent resignations, failure to recruit, and the increasing number of machines.
In managing any OH&S issue, the accepted hierarchy of control indicates you should eliminate the risk. There is nothing in your response that indicates this has been achieved. All that appears here is a transferring of your responsibility as a manager to the team leader, and only that an administrative control is applied. To argue this arrangement is industry practice is nonsense - it is low on the hierarchy list.
Secondly, there is a complete lack of any formal documentation as to what you have instructed your team leaders to do when confronted by a one person shift. We would suggest that the first thing is to identify all maintenance tasks required then have a risk analysis done in conjunction with the OH&S reps. It is not good enough to argue that there may be operational staff in the facility. There may not be operational staff in the facility, and those staff members may not be sufficiently aware of issues related to technical maintenance OH&S. It is abundantly clear that you are managing an ad hoc approach to Health and Safety which is totally unacceptable. As a manager, you could be held personally liable for any incident that may occur.
This matter requires significant further discussion. An appropriate time needs to be set aside to deal with it and other health and safety issues for which you should be responsible. This includes the heating/cooling in these facilities.
I refer you to clause 3 of the current EBA and the various Health and Safety legislative requirements which requires a commitment to achieve and maintain a healthy and safe workplace.
AUS POST ALLOWANCES AND CPI
Post has responded as follows (EXTRACTS):
We have considered the implementation of the CPI increase and whether this should be applied to both wages and allowances.
Consistent with your letter dated 8 Nov 2021, Post committed to increase wages by an amount equivalent to the CPI June 2022 if this amount was higher than 3%. Post will honour this commitment with an increase of 6.1% . At the time the CPI commitments were made to the CEPU, it was not our intention, nor was it contemplated, that the CPI increase would extend to both wages and allowances.
As such, I confirm that we will increase the allowances set out at Attachment B of the EBA by 3% in accordance with the terms of the EBA.
HURT SURVEY - ACTU
2022 Work Shouldn't Hurt Survey is now open and we really want your input.
Work Shouldn't Hurt is a survey we conduct every year about workers' experience of health and safety in the workplace.
The survey will help us better understand your experience at work, what is important to you and what you think could be improved.
The responses we collect help to frame our conversations with governments and employers and develop campaigns to bring about the changes necessary to make work healthy and safe.
You can help bring about change.
.Take the survey today.
Last year's survey was completed by over 25,000 workers from all over Australia and across jobs and industries.
The survey revealed the impact of Health and Safety Representatives (HSR's), which health concerns and injuries need to be better prioritised, how employers who focus on 'productivity' are putting their workers at risk and the harrowing realities of workers experiencing gendered violence and harassment at work.
It was also critical in unions winning stronger protections for mental health with new WHS regulations soon to be introduced across the country.
Find out more about these issues and
much more in our full report here
URGENT ACTION NEEDED AS REAL WAGES FALL TO 2011 LEVEL - ACTU
Wage growth has flatlined, rising by only 0.07% to 2.6%, less than half the rate of inflation at 6.1%, according to data released by the ABS. Years of stagnant wage growth capped off by deep ongoing real pay cuts mean that real wages have now effectively fallen back to 2011 levels. These cuts are projected to deepen by the end of the year with inflation expected to reach 7.75%.
Wage growth must be the number one priority for the jobs summit, its essential not only for working people but for the health of the entire economy, and we need structural change to ensure that our bargaining system is fit for purpose and producing the wage rises that we need.
While business profits are at record highs and the unemployment rate is historically low, real wages are nevertheless falling quickly, and many domestic and international indicators point to a risk of downgrading economic growth.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus: "Our bargaining system is the engine of wage growth - the engine has conked out, our country needs urgent reform to our wages system to get wage growth back on track".
Authorised by Dan Dwyer NSW Secretary, Sue Riley Vic Secretary
- CWU Telecommunications & Services Branches.