COVID-19 Member update – 20 March 2020

20-Mar-2020

ASMOF NSW COVID-19 Contingency Plan

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across all sections of society, and the importance of effective, evidence-based and transparent management has never been more important.

ASMOF is taking a pragmatic and precautionary approach to managing work absences and service delivery which is informed by current information about health risks.

We firmly place the health, safety and general wellbeing of our employees, members and the public at the heart of all our decision-making.

During this period the pandemic is likely to have some impact on the speed with which we can deal with member inquiries and cases. We will ensure that we can continue to deliver critical operations to the greatest extent achievable.

To minimise the spread of the virus and to minimise any possible disruption to our services during this time, the following arrangements are in place until further notice:

  • commencing Monday 16 March ASMOF employees are encouraged to work from home.
  • our physical office at 46/330 Wattle St will remain open with minimal staffing to ensure limited disruption to service.
  • you can still reach ASMOF on (02) 9212 6900 or asmof@asmof.org.au or if you have an industrial inquiry allocation@asmof.org.au.
  • in the event of a shutdown of the ASMOF office all ASMOF employees will be required to work from home.
  • our systems allow employees access to all relevant technology and information to handle inquires in the usual manner and for industrial staff to manage their industrial cases and participate in telephone and videoconferencing.
  • wherever practicable we will reduce face to face meetings and instead meet via telephone or video conference. This includes workplace meetings with members, consultative meetings with the Ministry, LHDs and hospitals.
  • for members involved in industrial tribunal matters, both the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) and the Fair Work Commission (FWC) have put in place COVID 19 contingency plans.

  The IRC will conduct conciliation hearings and all directions hearings and report backs via teleconference. Arbitration hearings will proceed in-person unless parties make an application for alternative arrangements.

  The FWC will conduct hearings and conferences by telephone or video conference wherever possible.

  • State and Federal Executive meetings will be held via telephone or video conference.
  • NSW State Council members are asked to participate in meetings via telephone or video conference. There will be a small number of staff running the meeting from the ASMOF office.
  • in the event of a shutdown of the ASMOF office State Council meetings will be conducted via telephone or video conference only.
  • all planned travel will be reconsidered and avoided where possible.

We will continue to carefully monitor the impact of the pandemic on our operations and closely monitor the Commonwealth and State Governments’ announcements and health advice relating to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

ASMOF advocacy

ASMOF continues to work closely with the NSW Government, NSW Health and other Unions to discuss emerging issues relating to COVID-19 and concerns that our members have raised.

We continue to meet with senior officials from NSW Health every Monday where the issues that members raise are discussed.

ASMOF is also part of a group of unions who are renegotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with the NSW Government regarding working arrangements in a Pandemic.

As reported previously we have received the guarantees around paid special leave, paid sick leave for new employees and to provide additional paid sick leave (determined on a case by case basis) when an employee has exhausted their sick leave.

One of the critical issues our members have raised is access to PPE.This is why we are conducting a short member survey on COVID-19 and your workplace safety. Please take the time to complete this survey.

Our advice will be regularly updated with the latest advice for members. If you have any specific concerns, feedback and questions related to COVID-19 please email allocation@asmof.org.au.

Latest Australian Government update

Australian Government restrictions mean that all people, including Australian citizens, who have been overseas and arrived from 12am on 16 March, are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer – Australia’s Director of Human Biosecurity – has advised the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled.

Latest advice from NSW Health

Keep up to date with the latest general COVID-19 information at the NSW Health website.

Following discussions with ASMOF on the 20th March NSW Health has released an updated Summary of Ministry of Health Workforce Advice.

What happens if I need to self-isolate or I’m quarantined from work?

If you are not sick but you are directed not to attend the workplace due to isolation requirements, the first option is to see if you can undertake your substantive duties from home.

If you cannot work from you will be paid as normal and placed on paid special leave for up to 20 days.

Special paid leave of up to 20 days is available in the following circumstances:

  • Self-isolating due to travel or close contact COVID-19 exposure.
  • Caring for family members sick with COVID-19 
  • Caring for family members due to closure of school/day-care.
  • Unable to attend work due to transport disruptions or workplace closure.

Casual employees and locums may be entitled to special leave if they are required to self-isolate due to close contact COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. This will depend on the nature of the member’s engagement; including the length of engagement and whether the casual has regular and systematic shifts.

Paid special leave is not available:

  1. Where you are required to self-isolate on return from an overseas country and:

  you departed Australia prior to 12am on 16 March, and

  on the day you departed your destination was classified as ‘do not travel’ or‘reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’due to COVID-19 on the Smartraveller website.

You may be able to work from home but you won’t have access to paid special leave.

  1. Where you are required to self-isolate on return from any overseas country if you departed after 12am on 16 March.You may be able to work from home but you won’t have access to paid special leave

VMOs will not be entitled to paid special leave.

Paid sick leave is available:

  • If you are sick due to COVID-19 or any other reason you take paid sick leave.
  • If your paid sick leave is exhausted, you may be able to access additional sick leave on a case by case basis.

Granting of Paid Sick Leave to Employees who have been employed for Less Than 3 Months

If you have been employed for less than three months you will be able to access paid Sick Leave from the commencement of your employment.

NOTE casual employees are not entitled to paid sick leave. ASMOF has asked NSW Health to follow the lead of other employers and allow casual employees access to paid sick leave during the pandemic.

What about other forms of leave?

During COVID-19 it is important hospitals have adequate capacity to deliver services effectively. This requires a sufficient number of available employees with the necessary skills and expertise to meet arising demands. Local Health Districts and hospitals need to assess their current and reserve workforce capacity.

As part of this it is important that management talk to employees about managing leave differently during COVID-19.

Can I make a new leave request?

Yes.

But hospitals have been asked to suspend business as usual processes for leave approval (annual, long service, leave without pay) and they will establish in their surge plans covering how such new leave requests will be approved over the next six months.

But there is NO leave freeze.

Also, JMO members should not have their ADOs cancelled or postponed.

All leave applications will be considered on a case by case basis and there will be personal circumstances considerations (e.g. bereavement, family issues, weddings).

Management will consider the following factors with leave requests:

  • projected workforce supply for COVID-19.
  • high demand periods such as school holidays.
  • winter flu (surge in demand and possibility of increase numbers of staff absent due to personal illness/ family illness).
  • strategies for staff to work outside their usual allocation to support high demand areas.
  • supporting settings where there are existing vacancies.

What about my existing approved leave?

Where leave (annual, long service, leave without pay) has already been approved this should proceed unless there is significant reason to withdraw approval.

If you are asked to cancel existing approved leave and you do not agree with this request then please contact ASMOF at allocation@asmof.org.au.

Can I take TESL and Official Overseas Travel that’s already booked?

With the revised Commonwealth Government advice (as of 12am 16 March), NSW Health has now advised that all official overseas travel should be cancelled, including official overseas travel booked and approved Prior to 5 March 2020.

Official overseas travel will only continue on a ‘by exception’ basis and subject to the following conditions :

If Government Smartraveller advice indicates ‘do not travel’, ‘reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’, travel is to be cancelled (including but not limited to COVID-19).

Otherwise:

  • A documented risk assessment should be undertaken to determine whether such overseas travel should continue in light of the developing COVID- 19 situation.
  • The risk assessment should be undertaken as soon as practicable to do so, in order to minimise impact on the individual staff member/s and maximise potential for refunding/ crediting/ cancellation of bookings.
  • Key considerations should include:
  1. The employee’s safety while overseas
  2. Identified requirements of the workforce surge plan in relation to the employee
  3. Potential delayed return to Australia and potential quarantine period further delaying return to work once back in Australia
  4. Any exceptional circumstances
  5. NSW Health Public Health advice until departure: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/coronavirus.aspx
  6. COVID-19 travel information provided at https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/news-and-updates/novel-coronavirus-covid-19

Where the status of the destination changes prior to departure and the Government Smartraveller advice indicates ‘do not travel’, ‘reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’, (including but not limited to due to COVID-19) official overseas travel is to be cancelled and not proceed.

Can I make a new Official Overseas Travel application (including TESL)?

New approvals of official overseas travel (regardless of the COVID-19 status of the overseas destination) are suspended. Alternatives to travel where practicable to do so are to be considered. This will be continually monitored and reviewed.

What about existing and new Official Domestic Travel application (including TESL)?

The NSW Department of Premier and cabinet have now released the following advice (which has now been incorporated into the NSW Health advice):

  • Domestic travel should be restricted to essential travel only.
  • All currently booked and approved domestic travel should be re-evaluated in line with the most up to date travel advice available at www.smarttraveller.gov.au.

What is ASMOF travel insurance advice?

Chubb’s Claims Response as at 19th March 2020 (click to view)

Chubb’s Claims Response as at 3rd March 2020 (click to view)

Please note that members also need to check on any further Government travel warnings.

How will this affect Doctors in Training including training and supervision arrangements?

HETI has provided advice on arrangements for doctors in training.

JMO wellbeing should continue to be a focus as many will be feeling vulnerable especially those in their first year. HETI acknowledges that the lack of groups getting together could impact on the JMOs feelings of belonging. HETI supports local consideration of alternate arrangements to ensure JMOs feel supported.

Staff Redeployment and Impact on Term Descriptions and Rosters

If hospitals make temporary changes to PGY1 and 2 term allocations to manage COVID-19 pandemic requirements prior approval from HETI is not required. HETI will rely on the GCTC and the DPET to monitor supervision, workload, wellbeing and access to training.

HETI acknowledges that rosters may need to be changed at short notice, however supervision needs to be maintained. Roster changes do not need prior approval from HETI.

Supervision

Supervision needs to continue as normal. If supervisory staff are absent or occupied with pandemic activities then hospitals need to ensure there are alternative supervisory arrangements in place.

Education and Training

Teaching sessions should continue where possible. Group teaching should be delivered through technology with recorded sessions to be utilised where possible. It is accepted that certain sessions e.g. Grand Rounds may need to be cancelled.

HETI is looking at how to support the use of technology to enable training.

Education about PPE/donning and doffing for the JMOs if they are working in fever/respiratory clinics is essential.

General Clinical Training (GCTC) and Network Training Committees (NTC) play a critical role in monitoring the impact on JMOs at this time. These meetings should not be cancelled but should be held by teleconference or videoconference.

Staff Redeployment and Impact on General Registration of Interns

Informal advice from MBA/AHPRA indicates that there will be some flexibility where an intern, due to redeployment related to the COVID-19 pandemic, does not meet the mandatory requirements for general registration. HETI is awaiting formal advice which we understand will be available shortly.

I am concerned that my workplace isn’t safe due to COVID-19, what can I do?

It is important that members understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to working in sectors with greater chance of exposure to the virus.

The Commonwealth Department of Health has released guidance to employers and employees in certain industries. This includes resources for health professionals.

Any member who is immunocompromised or has a chronic condition should not be working in a high-risk area. Your employer must manage the risk.

If you believe that you fall into this category you should raise this with management and request that they make reasonable adjustments which removes you from the risk. This could be an alternative position within the hospital, or it could be working from home.

If you believe management has not taken appropriate steps to manage this risk then contact ASMOF at allocation@asmof.org.au.

Are there Work Health and Safety Laws that cover me?

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) your employer MUST provide a healthy and safe work environment, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes obligations to ensure that co-workers are not exposed to known cases or contacts.

Your employer must monitor, so far as reasonably practicable, working conditions and the health of employees.

Your employer has an obligation to provide appropriate training and updated information in respect to potential health and safety risks, such as information regarding preventing the spread of the virus.

Employees also have obligations to take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.

Employees have rights to refuse to carry out work if the employee has reasonable concern the work would expose themselves to a serious risk from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. The employee needs to have a reasonable concern and there needs to be a serious risk. Such risks may include psychosocial risks arising from potential exposure to the virus.

Workers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) have rights to be informed about precautions to be taken and to challenge preventative health measures.

In line with the above obligations, employees should advise their employer of any potential exposure to COVID-19 and adhere to the requirement of isolation for a 14-day period, in line with the guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation.

Your employer should be encouraging self-reporting of such instances and ensuring that there are not barriers or disincentives to reporting.

What about Discrimination?

Discrimination is currently a topical issue stemming from the community’s fear and concern around COVID-19. In the circumstances, discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably or unfairly on the basis of an illness, impairment or disability.

Employees’ rights against discrimination in the workplace are protected at both state and federal levels.

If there has been an occurrence of discrimination, an application to either the Australian Human Rights Commission or the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board can be made to seek a remedy to the discriminatory behaviour. Discrimination law is however, a very complicated area. If you are concerned about such treatment, you should talk to the Union first.

What about Workers Compensation?

COVID-19 is a disease which falls within the definition of injury in section 4 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW).

Section 4 of the Act specifically provides that an injury includes:

“a disease that is contracted by a worker in the course of employment but only if the employment was the main contributing factor to contracting the disease…”

If an employee is required to be isolated and is suspected of having the virus but hasn’t contracted it, then they are not entitled to workers’ compensation, as they have not sustained an injury.

If, however, an employee contracts COVID-19 and can prove it was contracted in the course of employment and employment was the main contributing factor, then the employee would arguably be entitled to workers’ compensation.

Where can I find out more?

As situation changes from day-to-day, you should familiarise yourself with the following resources and check for their updates:

Commonwealth Department of Health

World Health Organisation (WHO) – Daily Reports

Safe Work NSW

NSW Public Health Workforce Surge Guidelines

NSW Health Influenza Pandemic Plan

The ACTU has also prepared an advice sheet (here) and have set up an informative online resource https://www.actu.org.au/coronavirus.

In addition, ASMOF will continue to provide more information as it arises.

As always – you can contact ASMOF calling 9212 6900 or emailing us allocation@asmof.org.au.