NSW’s move to allow critical workers who are close contacts to return to work ‘recklessly’, union says

The NSW government’s decision to allow close asymptomatic contacts essential to return to work without isolation is “reckless,” according to a union.

The COVID-19 exemption is now in effect for essential workers in the food, logistics and manufacturing sectors who become close contacts, similar to those previously introduced for healthcare workers.

However, the transport workers union said removing the isolation requirements was “beyond recklessness.”

“Workers are being cast aside by a government that continues to ignore all warnings,” union national secretary Michael Kaine said.

“We know that even if you are asymptomatic, you can still spread the virus. Requiring potentially sick people to go to work will not make supply chains healthy.”

Mr. O’Brien says employees are going to be even more worried about being infected at work.(ABC News)

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Acting Secretary Liam O’Brien said already exhausted workers feared the new rules would increase infections and worsen problems with the supply chain.

“All we’re going to do is add and increase the infections that occur in the workplace,” Mr. O’Brien said.

“This will cripple our supply chains in the medium term.

“[Employees] are only going to be even more anxious about catching COVID at work. “

Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet defended the decision, saying it was a necessary measure to ensure the state continued access to essential goods amid massive shortages of products in supermarkets across the country.

“We have to guarantee the security of the distribution networks. We have seen that this is a major challenge on a global scale,” said Perrottet.

“I believe the changes we made today strike the right balance.”

He also signaled further changes in other industries, if necessary, but said today’s new rules were “incredibly proportionate”.

“If we have to make other changes, we will,” he said.

“The best thing we can do is stay open. We need society to stay open.”

a man wearing glasses looking
Mr. Perrottet says the new rules are balanced.(ABC News: Harriet Tatham)

Workers will only be able to exit self-isolation if their employer determines that their absence from the workplace poses a high risk of disrupting the delivery of critical services or activities, and if they cannot work from home.

NSW Health said the new rules are effective immediately and apply to essential workers in the following industries:

  • agriculture (biosecurity and food safety personnel performing critical tasks)
  • manufacturing (production and manufacture of food, beverages, groceries, cleaning and sanitary products)
  • transport, postage and storage (food logistics, delivery and groceries)
  • emergency services.

Petersham grocery store owner John Chedid said he hopes problems with the supply chain improve, with fish and meat shortages causing significant stress.

“I work almost 100 hours a week to provide whatever I need, to serve my people,” Mr. Chedid said.

“It’s a lot of hours, a lot of effort, a lot of time to be able to get what we need. It’s not easy at all.”

a man in front of fruits and vegetables looking
Mr. Chedid says it is not easy to stock up on stock for his mid-west grocery store.(ABC News: Harriet Tatham)

He said the new public health orders would be “risky” for the workers to whom they applied.

“Most of the time, I won’t be able to sleep at night thinking about it,” he said.

“How to protect my business, how to protect my clients, how to protect ourselves and our staff.

“But … it’s not under my control – there’s nothing I can do about it.”

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