Workers at JBS in Brooklyn, in Melbourne’s outer west, have ceased work early this morning until the company can assure them they will be safe. The action is in line with the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act and comes after 71 positive cases connected to the JBS outbreak,
The cease work comes fifteen days after the JBS was ordered to close by DHHS. During this period JBS has not responded to many of workers concerns about the safety of the site.
The United Workers Union, one of the two unions who represent workers at the site, wrote to JBS asking them to explain how they will keep workers safe. The company responded by telling the union they will meet with them only after workers return to work.
In a notice to the company, JBS cold storage workers told the company that “without safe systems of work and without adequate information, instruction and training” there would be a “serious and immediate threat to… health or safety, namely a high threat and degree of risk to the COVID-19 contagion”.
In one alarming report, a worker who returned to the site on Monday, July 27, had yet to completely their 14 days in isolation. The worker remained on site for more than an hour before being sent home.
There are also lingering questions over JBS’ conduct in the lead up to the outbreak. Workers have reported that social distancing measures were inadequate, with afternoon and day shift crossing paths in a confined space with no social distancing, balaclavas being shared between workers and concerns being raised with management that were not taken seriously.
Workers have been forced to isolate over the last two weeks, some forced to draw upon their leave annual entitlements whilst others were left without any income at all.
In one case, a JBS worker who was saving his annual leave to help care for his soon to arrive newborn. The mother will be getting a c-section and will need help caring for the child. Like many workers, the company started subtracting the worker’s annual leave without his consent.
The union has been calling on JBS to provide additional paid leave for the workforce that has helped them continue to operate throughout the pandemic. Workers feel the extra paid leave would be a fair compensation after they contracted the virus at work and through no fault of their own.
Quotes attributed to Susie Alison, Victorian Secretary, United Workers Union:
“JBS has consistently failed their workforce by not communicating with their workers and by not consulting with their representatives.”
“These workers have been battling through this crisis with almost no support. They don’t want to have gone through all that only to walk back onto the floor and catch the virus.”
“Workers across this country are getting wise to the way these companies think, that profit is more important than people. They are ready to fight for their safety.”
United Workers Union represents 150 cold storage workers at the JBS site in Brooklyn.
AMIEU represents the abattoir workers on the site.
The union asked JBS to provide workers with information on how they will manage:
• Supply and use of appropriate masks
• Laundering of cloth masks and other Personal Protective Equipment
• Cleaning in particular of high touch and traffic areas
• What type and when will hygiene training take place
• Screening of current and/or new employees for coronavirus
• Social distancing and shift separation