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There appears to be a shift this week in the COVID-19 crisis as infection rates continue to fall and some states start lifting social distancing restrictions. It may be wishful thinking, but it feels as though we are getting closer to returning to (a new) normal. 
Consistent with this return to ‘new normal’, the important workplace news this week is that the National Cabinet agreed to a set of 10 National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles with the aim of assisting Australians to get back to work in a safe manner. We have provided more detail about these Principles below. 
Some of the other issues of note this week are: 

  • The Fair Work Commission confirmed that it has received 120 applications to deal with JobKeeper related disputes and has published a JobKeeper disputes benchbook to assist those lodging or responding to applications. 
  • Earlier this week, a Federal Court judge reserved his decision on whether Qantas employees stood down due to the coronavirus pandemic can access paid personal (sick) leave, carers' leave and compassionate leave during the stand down period. Qantas has argued that employees cannot access these entitlements and the union has strenuously opposed this on behalf of employees. The decision is expected to be handed down within the next fortnight. We will keep you updated on the outcome. 
  • The Victorian Premier has announced plans to conduct random testing across four of the State’s key industries that have been operating at full capacity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect that other states will follow suit. More details on which sectors have been included and what is involved are included below.   

Until next time, keep safe. 

National Cabinet Workplace Principles – returning to ‘business as usual’ in a post-COVID-19 world

The term ‘business as usual’ will never be viewed the same. However, because Australia has been largely successful in flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections, attention is now turning to what a return to work will look like as restrictions are eased. In particular, how will the health and safety of workers and others be protected in circumstances where low levels of infection are likely to remain in the community? 

On 24 April 2020, the National Cabinet agreed to a set of 10 National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles with the aim of assisting Australians to get back to work in a safe manner. The high-level guiding principles also attempt to ensure a unified approach across the country to stopping the spread of COVID-19 as Government restrictions are eased. 

The National Cabinet is also expected to develop industry-specific workplace health and safety (WHS) guidelines relating to COVID-19 to be accessible through the Safe Work Australia (SWA) COVID-19 hub.
The 10 principles are:

Website infographic1_COVID-19 Weekly Wrap Up#5_National Cabinet Workplace 10 principles_v2

Victorian Government COVID-19 testing plans 

The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, has announced plans to conduct random COVID-19 testing across four of the State’s industries continuing to operate at full capacity throughout the pandemic. The industries are:

Website infographic2_COVID-19 Weekly Wrap Up#5_Vic Gov COVID-19 testing plans_v2

Employers and unions across all sectors are being encouraged by the Victorian Government to promote testing to all workers displaying even the most mild symptoms of COVID-19 as the State looks to substantially increase testing levels in line with updated testing criteria before it eases current restrictions.

COVID-19 testing will be carried out through drive-through and walk-up testing clinics, as well as home visit testing clinics. Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Professor Brett Sutton, stated that the increased testing will allow the Victorian Government to make more informed decisions when it comes to easing COVID-19 restrictions.

With other state governments following suit and increasing workplace testing as the rate of community transmission of COVID-19 falls, we expect other states may also move to industry targeted testing as well.

If your business has workers in these industries in Victoria, be prepared for testing to be conducted over the coming weeks. You may also wish to provide workers with information about the Government’s plans, including outlining the updated testing criteria.

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