Know your rights
United Workers Union members proudly work across a range of essential industries in every corner of the country. Our members’ work reaches millions of people every single day of their lives.
Working people are on the frontline of the coronavirus (COVID-19) threat. We have a responsibility to ensure workers are safe and their rights are protected as this threat grows.
Now is the time for all Australians to get behind the workers who keep our communities running.
United Workers believes all Australian workers need significant back-up and support, including from employers and Government, to deal with this global health crisis.
We are calling for these commitments to be put in place immediately to ensure workers don’t lose out under this global health crisis:
If workers cannot work due to coronavirus risks, they should not lose pay
The Federal Government needs to support workers and the community
Workers must be entitled to avoid unsafe workplace situations
Workers must be consulted about employer response to coronavirus
Workers falling into special categories (including higher risk and carers) must be supported
Workers must be supplied with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
Read our full statement about support for workers affected by coronavirus issues here:
SUPPORT AND SERVICES GUIDE – FAQ
United Workers Union members across the country are feeling the effects of the coronavirus as many are being stood down from their employment, seeing reductions in their hours, or being exposed to the virus.
Below is a summary of some of the supports and services that you may be able to access to deal with the impacts on your health or your income.
This information is current as at 25 March 2020 and could change.
If you have lost part, or all, of your income as a result of the coronavirus, you should get in contact with Centrelink. If you are isolated, unable to work or caring for children due to coronavirus, you may be able to apply for the JobSeeker Payment or the Parenting Payment.
Some of the coronavirus support that you could be eligible for include:
- $550 fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement for six months (Applicable to those on JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (for job seekers) and the Parenting Payments)
- $750 once off support payment (Applicable to those who received allowances like Age Pension, Disability Support Pension, or the Carer Payment between 12 March and 13 April)
- Additional $750 once off support payment (Applicable for those who received the first support payment and have not received the Coronavirus Supplement above)
To prepare for speaking with Centrelink, try to get a letter from your employer confirming that you are not being paid and set up a My Gov account.
You can claim the JobSeeker Payment online through myGov (my.gov.au) using a Centrelink online account, or by calling Centrelink on 132 850. Please see the website for Centrelink numbers for other payments and services:
*Some of these entitlements are subject to legislation first passing to be implemented. Check the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services and Services Australia sites for the most recent updates:
- Contact your electricity, water or utility company to see if you can request an extension or instalment plan.
- Major phone providers also have financial hardship options, which might include a payment plan or transfer to pre-paid or to a different service option.
- You can also apply for utility rebates or vouchers if you are eligible. The Australian Government’s Money Smart website has details of the relevant agencies to contact for rebates: https://moneysmart.gov.au/managing-debt/problems-paying-your-bills-and-fines
All major banks have financial hardship options for eligible customers. So contact your bank and ask if you can reduce the loan repayment amount, put payments on hold temporarily or change the term of the loan.
If you are unable to pay your rent because of the coronavirus, we suggest writing to your landlord to request an extension or ask if they have hardship arrangements they can offer. If you need assistance, we have provided a model of this landlord letter here.
You can contact the four major banks on the following details:
- Commonwealth Bank’s Financial Assistance Solutions Team can be contacted on 13 30 95 (8am – 9pm Monday to Friday and 9am – 2pm on Saturday (AEST/AEDT).
For more information see: https://www.commbank.com.au/latest/coronavirus.html
- NAB Consumer Care team can be contacted on 1300 683 106 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am -1pm on Saturday (AEST/AEDT).
For more information see: https://www.nab.com.au/personal/customer-support/covid19-help
- ANZ can be contacted on 0800 240 438 8.30am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am – 5pm on weekends (AEST/AEDT).
For more information see: https://www.anz.co.nz/comms/financial-hardship/how-we-can-help/
- Westpac can be contacted on 1800 067 497.
For more information see: https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/sustainability/initiatives-for-you/customers-financial-hardship/
- If you are a student from overseas on a temporary student visa, you can contact your Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) insurance provider for advice on your health cover and services available to support you, including counselling and other mental health support. Your health cover may help you access and or meet the costs of medical and hospital care while in Australia.
- You can apply to enrol in Medicare and get a Medicare card if you are an Australian citizen, a New Zealand citizen, a permanent resident, applying for permanent residency, or a temporary resident covered by a ministerial order. For more information about eligibility and how to apply you can go to: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/subjects/how-enrol-and-get-started-medicare/enrolling-medicare
- Department of Health and Human Services sent out a circular to all public hospitals stating that all patients presenting to public hospitals for diagnostic and other treatment for the novel coronavirus should be treated free of charge, even where a patient is from overseas and does not have private insurance and is not eligible for treatment under Medicare rules.
Restaurant and supermarket delivery services are available if you need to have food delivered to you at home.
The emergency relief program for those in mandatory self-isolation will be coordinated by the Red Cross in partnership with Foodbank Victoria and under the direction of the State Relief Coordinator. It will start from Monday 23 March and can be accessed by calling Victoria’s dedicated coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398. The hotline can also refer people to other support services if needed.
- After legislation is passed, you may be able to access your superannuation early to help deal with the effects of coronavirus. Those eligible will be able to apply for early release of up to $10,000 from their super from mid-April, and a further release of up to $10,000 after July 2020. In addition, if you are experiencing severe financial hardship and have been on Centrelink benefits for over 6 months you can apply to access a lump sum of up to $10,000 from your super annually. You may also be able to access your super early on compassionate grounds.
For more information see: https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-03/Fact_sheet-Early_Access_to_Super_1.pdf
- If your income protection insurance policy covers ‘involuntary unemployment’ (or similar) you may be able to make a claim and you should call your insurance provider to check the terms of your protection.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS – FAQ
Please note: Much of this information is taken from the Australian Government Department of Health website. Please check this website for the latest advice from authorities: www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov.
This information is current as at 6 March 2020 and is likely to change.
The term “coronavirus” is being used to describe a new strain of virus which involves symptoms ranging from mild illness to pneumonia.
The number of confirmed cases in Australia is changing daily. Please check health.gov.au for the latest information.
United Workers Union members might have questions about how to deal with coronavirus issues if they arise at work.
If you have specific questions, ring your local United Workers Union member assist team, or talk to an organiser.
In some circumstances, you should not be at work due to coronavirus concerns – particularly where you have recently been in contact with someone with a confirmed case of coronavirus, or where you have recently travelled to a high-risk country.
Based on current advice your isolation should be for 14 days and so you should not attend work for this period.
Information on travel warnings and advice is changing, so please continue to check https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/destinations for the latest official information.
You can also call the 24-hour National Coronavirus Health Information Line available on 1800 020 080. The line provides health and information updates on COVID-19.
If you’re a permanent worker, you have a legal right to use personal leave (sick leave) to cover an absence from work.
However, United Workers Union is calling on all Australian employers to pay workers who can’t work due to coronavirus without asking them to use their sick leave.
United Workers Union believes:
- Permanent workers should be provided with special paid leave
- Casual workers should also be provided with special paid leave.
We are also calling for additional support for workers in special situations – such as immune suppressed workers, or workers with significant caring responsibilities, to be provided with extra support (including redeployment to safe work, work from home options or additional paid leave).
Your health and safety is paramount, and no job is worth taking a risk with your health.
If you’ve got concerns, the first step should be to talk to your employer.
Stopping or leaving work because of a coronavirus concern should only occur if there is a direct or imminent risk to your health. This will depend on the circumstances, but could include:
- That you have firm evidence you might be exposed to a confirmed case of coronavirus; or
- That you have firm evidence you might be exposed to someone who has travelled to a high risk country in the last 14 days.
In these circumstances, Health and Safety Representatives may direct a stoppage of work.
Based on current advice your isolation should be for 14 days and so you cannot attend work for this period.
Unlike the flu, there is currently no vaccine and therefore the prevention of the spread of coronavirus can only be achieved by isolating cases and practising good respiratory and hand hygiene. For example:
- Maintaining a distance of at least 1 metre from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Covering of the mouth or sneezing / coughing into elbow.
- Regular hand disinfection and washing hands with soap and water.
- Disposal of tissues etc into closed bins immediately after use.
- Staying at home if unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slight running nose.
For specific industries, refer to official advice:
- For health professionals:
- For ECEC:
- For people who may be caring for people with coronavirus:
- For paramedics and first responders:
- For hotel workers:
- For health and residential care workers:
An employer has an obligation to make sure everyone at work is safe, so can ask for a medical clearance where it is reasonable.
In the case of coronavirus concerns, this will depend on the circumstances, but should really only be in a situation where:
- A worker may have been exposed to a confirmed case of coronavirus; or
- A worker may have travelled, transited or left a specific country as per above.
Harassment and bullying directed against people who are sick, or who are concerned about workplace risk or coronavirus exposure is likely to be unlawful.
Coronavirus concerns are no excuse for treating people from different cultural backgrounds without respect and decency. Employers will need to ensure that no one is discriminated against for reasons related to coronavirus.
While there is no community spread or while numbers are low, it will be possible to trace contacts. If a worker contracts coronavirus and the contacts can be traced to work, the worker will be able to claim workers compensation benefits for time lost or medical care required.
This will become more difficult once there is evidence of community acquired infection, which is the case for illnesses such as influenza. However, high risk groups such as health workers may well be able to apply and obtain workers compensation.
Some income protection policies may also provide cover, but you would need to check with your insurer or super fund.
If you need more information, contact your local UNITED WORKERS UNION member assist – details are available at www.unitedworkers.org.au/contact. You can also get information from the Department of Health web-site at https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov .