Covid19 – United Workers Union

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Important Information

 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:

  1. If workers cannot work due to coronavirus risks, they should not lose pay

  2. The Federal Government needs to support workers and the community

  3. Workers must be entitled to avoid unsafe workplace situations

  4. Workers must be consulted about employer response to coronavirus

  5. Workers falling into special categories (including higher risk and carers) must be supported

  6. Workers must be supplied with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)

 

Read our full statement about support for workers affected by coronavirus issues here:

Download the statement (PDF)

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:
https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/contact-us/phone-us

*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:

https://www.dss.gov.au/about-the-department/coronavirus-covid-19-information-and-support
https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/

  • 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:

  • 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
  • Some states have made other arrangements for Medicare. These are detailed in the state-based information section below.

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:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-resources#-for-health-professionals-including-pathology-providers-and-healthcare-managers

 

  • For ECEC:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-schools-and-early-childhood-centres

 

  • For people who may be caring for people with coronavirus:

https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/02/interim-advice-on-non-inpatient-care-of-persons-with-suspected-or-confirmed-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-including-use-of-personal-protective-equipment-ppe.pdf

 

  • For paramedics and first responders:

https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/02/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-paramedics-and-ambulance-first-responders_0.pdf

 

  • For hotel workers:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-hotels-and-hotel-staff

 

  • For health and residential care workers:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-health-care-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 .

JOBKEEPER PAYMENT – FAQ

The Government has announced a new special “JobKeeper” payment which will allow some workers whose business has been affected by the COVID-19 economic downturn to access payments of $1500 per fortnight.

Government will need to pass legislation to make this effective and that hasn’t happened yet. Some of the key questions about this new payment can’t be answered until we see that legislation.

The following is based on the basic information released so far.

This information is current as at 31 March 2020 and is likely to change.

If your employer is eligible, you can still access JobKeeper even if you’re still working.

If you are still working and earning money, you get:

  • If you normally earn more than $1500 per fortnight, you keep getting what you normally earn (before tax);
  • If you normally earn less than $1500 per fortnight, you will start getting $1500 per fortnight (before (tax).

If you normally earn less than $1500 per fortnight you don’t get $1500 plus what you normally earn.

 

For example in early childhood education and care (under the Award):
Classification Current weekly rate Max. covered by govt. Difference covered by employer if you are working
Educator Cert III (Level 3.1) 862.50 750.00 112.50
Educator Diploma (Level 3.4) 971.20 750.00 221.20
Teacher (Level 3) 1,076.49 750.00 326.49
Director (Level 6.1) 1225.10 750.00 475.10

If your employer is eligible and stood you down after 1 March because of the coronavirus crisis, and you’re not earning any money right now, your Job Keeper payment is a flat $1500 per fortnight (before tax).

At this stage, there’s nothing to suggest that the Job Keeper payment will be taxed any differently from normal wages.

Full time workers are eligible

Part time workers are eligible

Casual workers are eligible, but only if you’ve been on the books for at least the last 12 months prior to 1 March 2020. At this stage we don’t know exactly what that means:

  • Our guess is that only casuals who were getting some kind of regular hours for at least 12 months prior to 1 March 2020 will be eligible
  • We don’t know yet whether a break in service during a 12 month period will count or not.

Workers who have lost their job since the crisis hit, but who are re-hired by their boss could be eligible if their boss applies for the subsidy (provided the worker was an employee on 1 March 2020).

NZ citizens who have a Protected Special Category Visa, a non-protected Special Category Visa Holder (and have been residing continually in Australia for 10 years or more) or a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa Holder are eligible.

“Turnover” is all ordinary income you earned in the ordinary course of running a business for the income year.

Firstly, your employer must be able to show it has suffered or will suffer a reduction in turnover of at least 30% (or a 50% reduction in turnover for businesses with a normal turnover of more than $1 billion).

So if your employer hasn’t suffered this kind of downturn yet, it needs to be able to explain to the ATO how they will suffer this downturn or they are not eligible to claim.

Businesses who haven’t or won’t suffer downturns of this size will not be eligible to claim.

It’s up to your employer to satisfy the ATO that it meets these requirements.

There’s going to be a delay in terms of the details of this scheme going through (legislation has to be passed) and processing claims.

If your employer is eligible now, they won’t receive the money from the government until the first week of May but the payments for eligible employees will be backdated to 30 March 2020.

Casual workers who haven’t been with their current employer for at least the last 12 months are not eligible.

Workers who are not employed on the books are not eligible unless their employment is formalised and they are included in their employer’s eligible employee count in their application.

Temporary migrant workers, such as workers on a Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482), Temporary Work (skilled) visa (subclass 457) or a Student visa (subclass 500) cannot access this payment.

You won’t be able to receive the Job Keeper payment and the Job Seeker payment at the same time. If your employer notifies you that you will be receiving the Job Keeper payment, you should contact Centrelink to notify them. If you prefer to receive the Job Seeker payment, you should talk to your employer.

Your employer will have to account to the ATO that it is passing on any Job Keeper payment it gets to each eligible employee that formed part of its application.

Your Union is pushing for a way for workers to go straight to the ATO to have complaints dealt with if employers are doing the wrong thing.

If you’re still working, you’re entitled to be paid for all of the work you do, as per your Award or EBA, even if this means you’re earning more than $1500 per fortnight.

Your boss can’t cut your pay to $1500 a fortnight if you should be earning more for the work you’re doing.

If you get your pay cut, or hours cut, talk to your Union.

Employers need to register their interest in applying for the Job Keeper Payment by going to www.ato.gov.au.

STATE-BASED INFORMATION

VICTORIA

The Victorian Government has announced an economic survival package to assist people who have lost their jobs at this difficult time. The Government will establish a Working for Victoria Fund to help workers who have lost their jobs find new opportunities, including work cleaning public infrastructure or delivering food. The Government will also facilitate job matching to help Victorians find short-term or casual roles.

To register your interest in receiving more information, please provide your contact details here:

https://www.vic.gov.au/workingforvictoria?fbclid=IwAR3IrVeoZ_FrjU65SkDMsCbopvuLJOQTPVajwvs64qulAquwaNmNAWKEfyg

The Victorian Government provides a range of concessions to assist with the cost of living. These are not coronavirus specific but include:

  • energy, gas and water rebates
  • rental bond assistance

All concessions have eligibility requirements.

For more information on concessions see: https://services.dhhs.vic.gov.au/concessions-and-benefits

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.

NEW SOUTH WALES

For those that do not have adequate insurance coverage, NSW Health will waive these costs. This includes the waiving of payment and debt recovery procedures for ambulance transfers of people suspected to have COVID-19 infection, who are taken to NSW Health facilities for assessment.

The New South Wales Government provides rebates and saving systems to assist with the cost of living. These are not coronavirus specific but include:

  • energy, gas and water rebates
  • rental assistance

All rebates and savings have eligibility criteria. The ‘Savings Finder’ tool can assist people find out which rebates and savings they may be eligible for: https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/campaign/cost-living

NSW has announced creation of a $1 billion Working for NSW fund to sustain business, create new jobs and retrain employees. There are also additional deferrals of payroll tax, plus deferral of rents for six months for commercial tenants with less than 20 employees in all Government-owned properties. It also includes deferral of gaming tax for clubs, pubs and hotels (conditional on these funds being used to retain staff). There is also additional funding for NGOs and charities.

For households there is an additional $30 million to boost the Energy Accounts Payments Assistance scheme.

For more information see: https://www.nsw.gov.au/your-government/the-premier/media-releases-from-the-premier/billions-in-tax-relief-for-business-1-billion-fund-for-jobs-and-help-for-the-vulnerable/

In relation to long service leave, currently in NSW an employer may, with the agreement of a worker, give the worker a period of long service leave before the worker becomes entitled to the long service leave. However, this must be a period of at least one month. The amendment permits this period to be less than one month. It also permits an employer, with the agreement of the worker, to give less than one month’s notice of when long service leave is to be given and taken.

For those that do not have adequate insurance coverage, NSW Health will waive these costs. This includes the waiving of payment and debt recovery procedures for ambulance transfers of people suspected to have COVID-19 infection, who are taken to NSW Health facilities for assessment.

QUEENSLAND

The Queensland Government has a Worker Transition Scheme which will, where possible, assist retrenched workers to find new employment and provide advice on government training schemes if new skills are required for their next job. For assistance under this scheme, workers can contact EconomicRecove[email protected].

 

The Queensland economic stimulus package includes $200 off utility bills for households.

 

The Queensland Government provides rebates and saving systems to assist with the cost of living. These are not coronavirus specific but include:

  • energy, gas and water rebates
  • rental assistance

 

All rebates and savings have eligibility criteria. For more information see: https://campaigns.premiers.qld.gov.au/smart-savings/

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The South Australian Government helps residents with a range of concessions including:

  • energy, gas and water
  • cost of living concession

All concessions have eligibility requirements.

For more information see: https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/care-and-support/concessions-and-grants

The state government announced an economic stimulus titled a Jobs Rescue package. There is a $250 million Community and Jobs Fund which includes funds for training of South Australians seeking new skills and employment. In terms of hardship measures, it includes:

  • A once off boost of $500 and bringing forward the 2020-21 ‘Cost of Living Concession’ for households who are receiving the Centrelink JobSeeker Payment. For eligible homeowners, their 2020-21 payment of $215.10 will now become $715.10. Eligible tenants will receive $607.60.
  • If a public servant has a family member who has lost their job and moved onto Commonwealth benefits, they will be able to receive their accrued leave down to a limit of two retained weeks (annual and long service leave).

For more information on the package: https://www.premier.sa.gov.au/news/media-releases/news/%241-billion-stimulus-package-to-save-sa-jobs,-businesses

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

In Western Australia the state government has announced a stimulus package that includes:

  • a freeze on household fees and charges, including electricity, water, motor vehicle charges, the emergency services levy and public transport fares
  • the Energy Assistance Package (EAP) in 2020-21 will be doubled to provide additional support to vulnerable Western Australians. The payment will increase from $300 to $600 for eligible concession card-holders.

Eligible residents can also access the state government’s range of concessions including:

  • energy, gas and water
  • rental bond assistance

All concessions have eligibility requirements.

For more information see: https://concessions.communities.wa.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx

The Minister for Health has confirmed that those people who are not eligible for Medicare and who present to WA Health facilities for assessment in relation to COVID-19 infection, will not be charged out of pocket expenses.

TASMANIA

The Tasmanian Government has announced a stimulus package that includes:

  • emergency relief for those who are required to self-isolate in the form of a one-off payments of $250 for individuals or up to $1,000 for families. Eligibility includes those with a Health Care Card or a Pensioners Concession Card and those on low incomes who can demonstrate a need for financial support, including casual workers.
  • $1 million of emergency accommodation support will be available for individuals and families who have been placed on home quarantine but who are unable to return to their regular place of residence.

The Tasmanian Government also provides a range of discounts and concessions, including for:

  • energy, gas and water
  • rental assistance

All concessions have eligibility requirements. For more information see: http://www.concessions.tas.gov.au/

The state government has announced a further package that includes protections so that casual workers in the state sector will be provided with two weeks special leave if they are required to self-isolate. The following hardship assistance is included:

  • Additional funding for Rapid Response Skills Initiative – through this program, up to $3,000 will be available for individuals to gain skills or licences to help them into a new role. Businesses that have immediate job needs and opportunities available, will be able to access a job-ready pool, including to match people to our immediate priority skills needs, such as in health and retail industries.
  • Electricity prices will be capped and water bills frozen for the next financial year.
  • The Community Fire levy will be frozen for the next financial year.
  • School levies for this year will be waived this calendar year. For those who have already paid their schools levies, the Government will arrange for these to be refunded.
  • Rent will not be increased for social housing tenants, and the Government will not count federal Government emergency payments as income for the purposes of calculating rent contributions.
  • The Government will also increase funding to the Private Rental Incentive Scheme by up to 75 houses to increase the pool of available houses.

For information see: http://www.premier.tas.gov.au/releases/unprecedented_new_social_and_economic_support_package_released

ACT

The ACT Government has announced an economic stimulus package that includes:

  • applying a $150 rebate to the fixed charge component of all residential rates bills in 2020‑21
  • freezing the Fire and Emergency Services Levy in 2020-21 at the current 2019-20 level
  • freezing all 2020-21 vehicle registration, parking and public transport fee increases at the current 2019-20 levels

The above will be automatically applied to 2020-21 rates bills. Residents do not need to apply.

NORTHERN TERRITORY

The Northern Territory Government has announced an economic stimulus package that includes a freeze on increases to government fees and charges, including electricity costs. This means that fees and charges which are normally increased annually or regularly will not be.

 

The Northern Territory Government also provides a range of discounts and concessions, including for:

  • energy, gas and water
  • property rates and garbage

All concessions have eligibility requirements. In the NT, the JobSeeker Payment is not included in the list of eligible payments for the concession scheme. For more information see: https://ntconcessions.nt.gov.au/?q=members/nt-concessions-scheme

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