COVID -19 Update

06-Mar-2020

As of 4 March, the global COVID-19 death toll was 3,190, while more than 93,000 people have been infected in more than 80 countries.

The death toll has passed 3,000 in China, where there have been over 80,000 cases. South Korea, the nation worst hit by the outbreak outside China, has had 5,328 cases. More than 44,000 people in China have recovered from COVID-19.

There are 53 confirmed cases in Australia, with two deaths

What is ASMOF doing?

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

We are meeting with senior officials from NSW Health every Monday. This is the process through which we received the guarantee that employees who may have been in contact with people who are infected with COVID-19 will be on paid special leave for any quarantine period.

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.

We already have a list of issues that we will raise next Monday, including concerns about hospital-based communication, access to proper PPE and providing care for women in labour who have COVID-19. If you have any specific concerns, feedback and questions to raise please email allocation@asmof.org.au.

The latest advice from NSW Health

We encourage members to keep up to date with the latest general COVID-19 information at the NSW Health website.

Following discussions with ASMOF this week NSW Health has released an updated Summary of Ministry of Health Workforce Advice. 

What happens if you need to self-isolate/or are quarantined from work?

If an employee is required to self-isolate due to close contact COVID-19 exposure in the workplace or as a result of travel paid Special Leave will be granted unless the employee is quarantined after they knowingly travelled to a country where the Smart Traveller advice for that country is: ‘do not travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’, on the date of the employee departed overseas.

Casual employees may be entitled to special leave if they are required to self-isolate due to close contact COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.

However, VMOs will not be entitled to paid special leave.

What about other 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 the 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.

New Leave Requests and Approvals

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 how such new leave requests will be approved over the next six months.

This does not mean that leave won’t be approved and there will be exceptional 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.

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.

What about TESL and other leave?

Official Overseas Travel Booked and Approved Prior to 5 March 2020 (Including TESL)

  1. If the Commonwealth Government’s Smart Traveller advice indicates ‘do not travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ prior to departure travel is to be cancelled.
  2. Otherwise:
    1. a documented risk assessment should be undertaken to determine whether such overseas travel should continue in light of the developing COVID-19 situation.
    2. 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.
    3. Key considerations should include:
      1. The staff member’s safety while overseas
      2. Identified requirements of the workforce surge plan in relation to the staff member
      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. Novel Coronavirus 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 Smart Traveller advice indicates ‘do not travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’, official overseas travel is to be cancelled and not proceed.

Suspend New Official Overseas Travel Application (Including TESL)

Health Agencies should suspend any new approvals of official overseas travel (regardless of the COVID-19 status of the destination); and consider alternatives to travel where practicable to do so. This will be continually monitored and reviewed.

ASMOF Travel Insurance advice

The latest advice from Chubb travel insurance can be found here. Please note that members also need to check on any further Government Travel warnings.

What about general rights at work?

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 current evidence is that it takes between 2 and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever. A person may not be showing any signs of illness, hence the ability for the infection to spread. This is not unlike the common cold or influenza, but it appears to be more infectious.

Unlike influenzas, there is currently no vaccine and therefore the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus can only be achieved by isolating cases and the practice of good respiratory and hand hygiene.

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

You should be aware of your workplace health and safety rights.

  • 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.

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.

  • Your employer must monitor, so far as reasonably practicable, working conditions and the health of employees.
  • Your employer has an obligation to provide information and training for employees regarding potential health risks.
  • 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.
  • Where there is potential exposure to COVID-19, employees should advise employers of exposure and the need to isolate in accordance with issued health guidance. Employers should be encouraging self-reporting of such instances and ensuring that there are not barriers or disincentives to reporting.
  • Employers will need to ensure that no one is discriminated on the basis of sickness or for other reasons related to COVID-19.

Where can you find out more?

As situation changes from day-to-day, employees should familiarise themselves with the following resources and check for updates. In addition, ASMOF will continue to provide more information as it arises:

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)

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