ACTU boss labels change to close contact rules ‘crazy, dangerous’

Courtney GouldNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

A major change to how Australia manages Covid close contacts has been labelled crazy and dangerous by unions.

On Monday, the seven day isolation period for close contacts was scrapped for workers in critical supply chain roles.

The change came less than two weeks after national cabinet agreed to relax the definition of a close contact. Only people who have spent more than four hours in a household setting, and household contacts of a positive case would be required to quarantine.

Speaking with ABC News, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said the change put the health and welfare of workers at risk.

“A household close contact is now four hours, but working people might be spending eight hours with someone who is Covid-positive and they are no longer considered a close contact, which is just really crazy,” Ms McManus said.

Unions Presser
Camera IconACTU Secretary Sally McManus has written to the Prime Minister requesting an urgent meeting. Credit: News Corp Australia, Gary Ramage

“It is a bit dangerous as well.”

Shoppers across the country have been confronted this week as supply chain workers were forced into isolation as a result of the close contact rule.

Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have reported staff shortages of up to 35 per cent.

Overnight, the union boss wrote to the Prime Minister, requesting an urgent meeting with Mr Morrison to discuss how best to protect exhausted essential workers.

Ms McManus said unions were ready to work with the government as they did when Covid hit in 2020.

“In 2020 we were constantly meeting with your government to ensure that decision making included a consideration of issues affecting workers,” she said.

“This needs to be reinstated to ensure that decisions made that affect working people are made after consulting working people.”

Camera IconAs the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus spreads across Australia, shops and supermarkets are experiencing stock shortages. Brendan Radke Credit: News Corp Australia

In her letter, the ACTU made a list of demands – including restoring pandemic leave for close workplace contacts, free rapid antigen tests, and upgrading a mask mandate to N95 or P2 masks.

“The accelerating Omicron outbreak is a national crisis. It calls for national leadership. We need the support of our government to be able to keep the country going and at the same time to keep workers and the community safe,” her letter said.

However, chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the changes agreed to by Australia’s medical expert panel were “reasonable”.

“The provisions that allow greater flexibility in balancing the need to reduce transmission against detrimental loss of workforce is an appropriate measure,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“That‘s the, that’s the headline in this, in this particular guidance”

Camera IconScott Morrison said businesses are currently experiencing a tough time. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Morrison acknowledged that businesses experiencing workforce shortages and supply disruptions were having a “tough time”.

“As the case numbers continue to rise, the volume of cases will of course have an inevitable impact on the workforce,” he said on Monday.

“This is an incredibly tough time on business.

“There aren’t lockdowns but there are many people obviously impacted by being close contacts or people being wary, or those indeed who have Covid themselves.”

Originally published as ACTU boss labels change to close contact rules ‘crazy, dangerous’

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