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Issue #1924      July 20, 2020

Update on Melbourne’s lockdown

In Victoria we are now seeing over 200 new COVID-19 cases every day. On 14th July, there were 257 new cases in a single day bringing total cases to 4,224, now exceeding New South Wales. Many of these cases are linked to health care facilities, aged care facilities, workplaces, and the public housing blocks.

On 10th July July, Daniel Andrews made a statement “encouraging” the community to wear face masks when entering the public. This, however, is just a recommendation. Daniel Andrews states that it will not be enforced and you cannot be fined for not wearing a face mask. This is the response of a capitalist, liberal government. Daniel Andrews sees two options when confronting the virus: individual responsibility and punitive measures. Masks, especially N95 masks, are increasingly inaccessible and expensive. The government’s response should be to provide easily accessible, subsidised masks for the community. Employers should also provide masks as a safety control when social distancing cannot be met.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) have continued to campaign for masks to be made available to all commuters. The government should be supplying commuters on public transport with masks to help protect workers and communities. Hopefully we shall see this change after the state government’s order of two million reusable masks and one million single-use masks arrive later this month.

Another development in Victoria is an agreement between Daniel Andrews and Scott Morrison to deploy 1,000 defence force members over the next three weeks. In Scott Morrison’s statement on July 14, he said that the 1,000 members will be supporting logistics, testing, paramedics, intelligence reporting, contact tracing data, management, community outreach, enforcement, and manage vehicle checkpoints.

There have also been increased fear of an outbreak amongst the refugees detained at one of Australia’s Medevac hotel prisons, Mantra City Hotel, after one of the security guards was tested positive for COVID-19. All refugee and asylum seekers must be released into the community with adequate and appropriate support to prevent a cluster outbreak at Mantra City.

Daniel Andrews has also warned that if the situation does not improve under Stage Three restrictions, then Stage Four restrictions could be introduced, but it is unclear what exactly this would entail.

Free 33 Alfred Street – Public Housing Hard Lockdown

We have welcomed the easing of the public housing hard lockdown for eight of the nine buildings in Flemington, North Melbourne, and Kensington. However, the block at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne remains under hard lockdown and residents’ demands remain unmet (see “Free the Blocks” in Issue #1923 for the list of demands). In a statement from Voices from the Blocks, they noted that the police at 33 Alfred Street are still kept in the dark about their situation, and that the police patrolling the blocks are to eventually be replaced by prison guards.

Residents at 33 Alfred Street were told that they could now leave for exercise and medical care. However, this medical care is segregated in marquees near the building and the exercise the government was so generous to permit? This is limited to a perimeter around the building enforced by a temporary fence that cages residents inside.

There have been more reports of police harassment and gaslighting from volunteers and residents at 33 Alfred Street. Tigist Kebede, a mental health counsellor volunteering at 33 Alfred Street, relayed an experience where volunteers were told to stay clear from the car park they had been visiting to communicate with residents inside. This change in what volunteers were allowed to do coincided with a shift change for police. One of the police officers singled out Tigist Kebede and confused her with another Black and so-called “abusive” volunteer from before she had even arrived at the scene. This occurred after a police officer refused to give the volunteers their badge number. This isn’t the first time a police officer has refused to provide a badge number at the blocks. These situations are very different to the so-called “support” from Victoria Police that Daniel Andrews has been talking about.

There has also been no more information released about the proposed “hardship payments” and rent suspension for residents affected by the hard lockdown. This is crucial as residents are reporting conflicting stories where rent has been taken out of residents’ bank accounts, and residents have been told that the “hardship payment” was for households only, and then only for those with a positive COVID-19 test. We demand complete transparency surrounding the lockdown from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Coronavirus in the workplace

There have been a few COVID-19 related outbreaks in workplaces, especially in workplaces represented by United Workers Union (UWU). UWU attributes this to the fact that when there is a COVID-19 case at the workplaces they represent, such as warehouses and production facilities, workers are told to keep working.

An example of this is the continued production at the Chemist Warehouse Distribution Centre in Somerton, Melbourne. In a media release on July 10, UWU states that the positive COVID-19 case and “only five of their colleagues have gone into isolation, despite the possibility of up to 100 staff who worked the same shift having come in contact with the confirmed case.” Workers at the warehouse are forced to choose between financial stability and putting their own health at risk. UWU demands that Chemist Warehouse:

Place all workers at this site on paid pandemic leave until they have been able to obtain a COVID test and return it negative.

Close the site for 72 hours to allow for a deep clean.

Another workplace outbreak is at yet another abattoir in Brooklyn, Melbourne. JBS abattoir have, as of July 13, four positive COVID-19 tests and has been shut down for a deep clean. The biggest concern from UWU is that the outbreak may continue at JBS unless workers stood down are given paid pandemic leave, as is demanded for workers at the Chemist Warehouse Distribution Centre.

There have been anecdotes from UWU members of being left in the dark by their employers when there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in the workplace. Under Victorian Worksafe laws, workers have the right to collectively cease work if safety is threatened. UWU have released two checklists, one for workers and one for employers, for workplaces with a COVID-19 case to help workers pressure employers to implement safety control measures. UWU members are given three steps in the case of an outbreak:

Contact the UWU COVID-19 Hotline – 0412 095 327.

Contact the Department of Health and Worksafe if your employer is not following protocol.

If there is no deep cleaning and/or if there is unsafe subcontracting, Health and Safety Reps can put in a cease work notice.

A similar protocol can be followed for workers not represented by UWU by first contacting their union when a COVID-19 is reported in their workplace. As UWU Logistics Director Matt Toner says, “Big businesses need to understand that this virus spreads just as fast in the workplace as it does in the community, and they need to do more to stop the second wave hitting Victorians.”

Next article – EDITORIAL – Britain’s fingerprints are all over Saudi Arabia’s murderous war

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