Interstate workers dodging quarantine could put lives and livelihoods at risk

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The Electrical Trades Unions says that state governments are allowing ‘essential’ workers to travel between states without the mandatory 14-day quarantine or getting tested for COVID-19, potentially exposing workers around the country to the virus.

ETU officials in Queensland and Tasmania argue that many of the jobs deemed ‘essential’ can be performed remotely or by local workers and are calling for state governments to have tighter restrictions on reasons for entering their states.

In many cases, workers are travelling from hotspots like Victoria, not getting tested, and not quarantining.

In Queensland, Energy Queensland contractor company Zinfra flew in a HR consultant from Victoria who did not get tested and did not self-isolate on arrival. The employee was in the state for low-level meetings that could easily be performed remotely or via teleconferencing software like Zoom.  

“It throws the whole system out if companies can wrongly self-identify a clearly non-essential service like HR as an essential service. We call on the state and federal authorities to review the definitions to ensure they are accurate and reasonable,” said Peter Ong,  Queensland State Secretary of ETU.

In Tasmania approximately 5000 skilled workers from interstate have been issued exemptions from border restrictions, but much of the work they are doing could be done by Tasmanian workers instead.

“Workers from interstate are able to come into the state, they don’t have to isolate, they don’t have to be tested, and then they’re allowed to travel around our community, and attend site and work with other workers. It’s just not good enough,” said Chris Clark, a CEPU organiser.

The Tasmanian authorities are also refusing to release information on the exemptions, and a Right to Information request by the Labor Party has been blocked by the government. 

Adding insult to injury, this week in Queensland the Commissioner of the federal government's Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Stephen McBurney also flew in from Victoria to interview two workers on the Cross River Rail about a protest they attended in November 2019.

Mr McBurney’s visit risked workers’ lives, and the shutdown of one of the largest construction projects in Australia for an interview that could easily have been facilitated remotely. It is hard to understand why his travel was deemed ‘essential’ when the event in question happened eight months ago.

“The virus doesn’t discriminate based on what company you work for or what your job title is. If we don’t take these simple precautions across the board, workplaces will be the next source of outbreaks,” said ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks.

“The second wave in Victoria began with only a few cases. It would only take one interstate worker to start an outbreak that eventually shuts down a whole city.”

The Union will continue to lobby state governments to do more to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect working people and their families from exposure to the virus.


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