HWU Members Update: COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS)


Dear HWU Member,

This is an important update to ensure you receive the most up-to-date information about the virus and its implication for you and your family. Please take time to read it. The HWU has been in constant contact with the Victorian Government and its agencies, Health Department officials and employers, to ensure the voices of our members are heard as we face the challenge of Covid-19 over the coming months. This is a difficult and stressful time for all health workers. The Health Workers Union is here to support you and stand with you. We are all in this together. If you need advice or support or if you have any questions, call the HWU today on (03) 9341 3300 or email info@hwu.org.au.  


HWU Operational Matters

The HWU remains open. Our HWU Member’s Assist Call Centre is in full operation. More trained HWU Case Officers have been diverted to our Member Assist Call Centre, as we have received an influx of member queries and cases. Please be aware that call waiting times have increased as a result of member’s uncertainty around their workplace entitlements and occupational health and safety issues arising from insufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

In other HWU operational matters:

  • HWU administration staff, where possible, have been instructed to work from home on laptops and not at the HWU offices. Social distancing is being exercised, where possible.
  • Your HWU Organiser will continue to work over this period. Ordinary schedules of onsite workplace meetings may, however, alter over the coming months. Many employers, particularly in aged care, have requested that HWU officials not conduct visits or workplace safety inspections in the immediate future. In light of the current circumstances, the HWU will not challenge any dispute arising from a ‘Right of Entry’ request.
  • All HWU Organisers will remain fully contactable via mobile phone and email and will attend meetings where essential. Small member meetings may still occur ‘off premises’.
  • Members with individual matters will be represented by the HWU, including cases before the Fair Work Commission. (Note there may be delays with the FairWork Commission, see below).
  • All HWU member training sessions have been postponed until further notice.


Employment Matters & Advice from DHHS (Public Sector & Community Health)

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has provided advice on employment matters relating to the public and community health sectors. This document (attachment in link below) was provided to the HWU.

This document includes information which may be useful to you. Please distribute this information freely and widely amongst all HWU members, including on noticeboards.

The document includes information about:           

  • Payments during periods of absence of work, and clarity with regards to entitlements
  • WorkCover claims 
  • Advice re casual employees required to self-isolate or not attend work
  • Overtime.

Please be aware that the Health Workers Union covers some 400 workplace agreements. Definitions with respect to entitlements will vary from employer to employer, particularly in the aged care sector. If you are unsure about your rights, please contact the HWU for the right advice.

If you have any questions about the information provided in this document (attachment in link below) please call the HWU during business hours (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.00pm) on (03) 9341 3300 or email info@hwu.org.au if the matter is urgent.

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Guidance Note on Employment-Related Matters March 30th


New Aged Care Measures

The Prime Minister this morning announced a raft of measures for aged care facilities. The nature of COVID-19 places immune compromised individuals and elderly at greater risk of mortality. The Prime Minister announced new measures including visit restrictions (see below) in facilities and restrictions to lifestyle activities for residents. The HWU is seeking clarification on this last point, as it is likely to impact on the day-to-day work of lifestyle and leisure workers within facilities. The HWU asks aged care members to contact the HWU if you are unsure about your workplace rights or if you receive any notices from your employer about any changes regarding your role.

The Prime Minister has issued the following statement with respect to aged care:

Aged Care and Older Australians

As the transmission of COVID-19 increases rapidly, it is our priority to protect and support elderly and vulnerable Australians. Aged care is a critical sector that faces staffing challenges as existing staff are either subject to self-isolation requirements due to COVID-19 or are unable  to attend work.

The National Cabinet has agreed to the recommendations by the AHPPC to enhanced arrangements to protect older Australians in Residential Aged Care Facilities and in the community

Restrictions on entry into aged care facilities

The following visitors and staff (including visiting workers) should not be permitted to enter the facility:

  • Those who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days;
  • Those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days;
  • Those with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath); and
  • Those who have not been vaccinated against influenza (after 1 May)
  • Visitors

Aged care facilities should implement the following measures for restricting visits and visitors to reduce the risk of transmission to residents, including:

  • Limiting visits to a short duration;
  • Limiting visits to a maximum of two immediate social supports (family members, close friends) or professional service or advocacy at one time, per day;
  • Visits should be conducted in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area designated by the aged care facility, rather than communal areas where the risk of transmission to residents is greater;
  • No large group visits or gatherings, including social activities or entertainment, should be permitted at this time;
  • No school groups of any size should be allowed to visit aged care facilities.
  • Visitors should also be encouraged to practise social distancing practices where possible, including maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres.
  • Children aged 16 years or less must be permitted only by exception, as they are generally unable to comply with hygiene measures. Exemptions can be assessed on a case-by-case basis, for example, where the resident is in a palliative care scenario.
  • Measures such as phone or video calls must be accessible to all residents to enable more regular communication with family members. Family and friends should be encouraged to maintain contact with residents by phone and other social communication apps, as appropriate.
  • Managing illness in visitors and staff

Aged care facilities should advise all regular visitors and staff to be vigilant for illness and use hygiene measures including social distancing, and to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, specifically fever and acute respiratory illness. They should be instructed to stay away when unwell, for their own and residents’ protection.

Given the high vulnerability of this particular group, aged care facilities should request that staff and visitors provide details on their current health status, particularly presentation of symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Screening for fever could also be considered upon entry.

These additional measures should be implemented in order to better protect residents and prompt individuals entering the aged care facility to consider their current state of health prior to entry. Both individuals and management need to take responsibility for the health of visitors and staff at facilities to protect our most vulnerable community members.

These are the recommendations of the AHPPC, individual facilities may choose to implement additional measures as they see fit for their circumstances.

Symptomatic staff

Staff should be made aware of early signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Any staff with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath) should be excluded from the workplace and tested for COVID-19. Staff must report their symptoms to the aged care facility.

To find out more about changes to aged care, click on the following link: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-the-health-and-aged-care-sector


Pathology Workers & Testing for COVID-19

The public health system is struggling to keep up with testing for COVID-19. Up to 70% of all medical diagnoses require pathology services and COVID-19 is no exception. Victoria needs to drastically increase its capacity to test for the virus. This is critical to community health and limiting its spread. Dorevitch Pathology will now conduct testing.

The Health Workers Union has been consulted by Dorevitch Pathology and we recognise the need for Dorevitch to conduct COVID-19 testing at this critical time. For the Health Workers Union, the health and safety of our Dorevitch Pathology members is paramount. That’s why we have sought the following conditions to COVID-19 testing for Dorevitch Pathology workers:

  • Firstly, that the testing is voluntary. Employees who do not wish to participate are not required to.
  • Secondly, volunteers will need to fit the following criteria, which excludes high risk groups: 
    • Be under the age of 60
    • Not in the same household of a person over the age of 70
    • Not have a chronic respiratory or lung disease
    • Not be pregnant, or
    • Not be immunocompromised.

We have received assurances from Dorevitch Pathology that appropriate training and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (including gowns, eyewear, gloves and N95 masks) will be provided. Further, only voluntary staff that have received this training and PPE can conduct testing.

At Melbourne Pathology there are no plans, at this time, to conduct COVID-19 testing. Further, Melbourne Pathology have ceased all nasal procedures.

At Clinical Labs, there are also no plans, at this time, to conduct COVID-19 testing. The HWU is seeking clarification from Clinical Labs about their policy on nasal procedures.


Disability Sector

Our disability sector desperately needs a plan to combat COVID-19. The Australian Government is the principal funder of disability services, with accountability for administering the NDIS, setting service prices through the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), and regulating the quality of services through the NDIS Commission. It has a responsibility to take appropriate action now to ensure that people with disability are able to safely access services when they are needed.

The HWU’s major concern is to ensure that sufficient funding is provided to all workers in the disability sector, regardless of employment status, do not go without pay when their ability to provide a service is disrupted due to COVID-19 (e.g. client cancellation, self-isolation). We also need to ensure immediate and easy access to PPE for all disability workers and providers.

A document from trade unions calling on a raft of actions from the Federal Government is attached in link below.

Disability Sector RE COVID-19


COVID-19 Pandemic Plan

The Victorian government has also released its COVID-19 Pandemic Plan for the Victorian Health Sector, setting out a four-stage response to COVID-19. The plan is flexible and proportionate to the current risk and will be updated as we learn more about the virus. All health workers should familiarise themselves with the plan. To find out more, click on the following link: https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/about/publications/ResearchAndReports/covid-19-pandemic-plan-for-vic


ACTU Push for Coronavirus Leave for Casuals

Up to 30% of the Australian workforce is casual. The impact of this pandemic will have disastrous consequences for our economy. In particular, casual employees will be hardest hit. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has developed a petition calling for all casuals to receive a minimum of two weeks paid special leave. The HWU supports this petition. Whether you are directly impacted or not, we encourage you to sign this petition. To do so, click on the following link: https://www.megaphone.org.au/petitions/coronovirus-support-paid-sick-leave-for-casual-workers

For further ACTU information about your workplace rights at this time, go to https://www.actu.org.au/coronavirus.


Health Precautions and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The Health Workers Union values the health of our members. Your health is paramount.

It is imperative that you take all necessary steps to limit your exposure to coronavirus, both in a professional and personal setting. Where applicable, ensure you have adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including gloves, masks, gowns, etc. Do not expose yourself or members of your family to unnecessary risk. If you are not being provided with adequate PPE at your workplace, or you are being asked to do something which you feel compromises your health and safety, call the HWU immediately on (03) 9341 3300.

The following link provides a good resource on ways you can protect yourself: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert.

In all matters where your Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) are concerned, WorkSafe is the authority who deals with disputes or breaches. WorkSafe has prepared a guide on COVID-19, and we encourage members to keep up to date with WorkSafe’s advice.  https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/infectious-diseases.

In any circumstance where you believe that your health is compromised, you have the right to contact WorkSafe and either seek their advice or their intervention.  If you have any questions on your OH&S, please contact WorkSafe on 1800 136 089.


Social Media & Personal Conduct

All HWU members are reminded to exercise caution on all social media platforms, such as Facebook. Do not share information about your workplace’s response, or incidents with respect to coronavirus on social media. If you have concerns about the actions of your employer with respect to their response to the coronavirus pandemic at your workplace, contact the HWU immediately on (03) 9341 3300.

Most workplaces have their own social media policy in place. Make sure you get a copy of this policy and understand what your employer expects, and what your responsibilities are under this policy. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t say something in front of your employer or your workmates at work, don’t say it on social media either.

The months ahead will be extraodinary. You may be asked by friends or family members to obtain medical supplies (such as masks, toilet paper or hand sanitizer) that are no longer readily available in the general community. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES take supplies without authorisation. If you steal from your employer, it may be grounds for instant dismissal. It is very difficult for the HWU to save your job under circumstances involving theft. Please endeavor, as always, to exercise the highest level of professional conduct.


Fair Work Commission Changes

The HWU currently has several matters before the Fair Work Commission, including the certification of workplace agreements.

The HWU has received advice that the Commission will conduct hearings and conferences by telephone and video conferencing wherever possible, minimizing the requirement for parties to physically attend the Commission.

The Commission advises that its operations will be impacted, and hence the speed in which it can deal with all matters will therefore be impacted. Expect delays. The HWU will update its members via sms (text) and email when a matter before the Commission impacting those members arises.


Message from the Secretary

The next few months will be difficult for all Victorian health workers. We will be pushed to the brink – both professionally and personally. I wish to thank each and every one of you at this critical time. Health workers are heroes working on the frontline – you are on the side of angels!

We work in this industry because we care for others. But in doing so, please take all measures necessary to protect your own health – and that of your family. The HWU – it’s officials, staff, members and delegates are your family too. We are with you every step of the way.

Solidarity forever,

Diana Asmar
HWU Secretary

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Health Workers Union 
“Caring is Our Profession”

Level 5, 222 Kings Way, South Melbourne, Victoria 3205
Telephone: 03 9341 3300 |  Facsimile: 03 9341 3334
healthworkersunion@hwu.org.au  |  Web: www.hwu.org.au |