Extend pandemic leave or face supply chain, travel chaos: TWU

Transport Workers' Union

The Transport Workers’ Union is calling on the Albanese Government to extend paid pandemic leave entitlements or face a return to empty supermarket shelves and travel chaos as workers – particularly casuals – are pressured to work while infectious.

In January, a TWU survey taken during the peak of supply chain disruption revealed workers were pressured to return to work while sick or still infectious, with casual workers additionally burdened by their lack of sick leave and insecure income.

The survey revealed a third of workers had lost pay to self-isolate, while 41% had been forced to use annual or sick leave to self-isolate.

Bus drivers expressed their concerns for worker and passenger safety as many reported being pressured to keep working with covid or as a close contact. One driver said: “Pressured to work even though I could barely drive the bus. I refused to work the next day because I tested positive. My boss still wanted me to come on. I couldn’t get out of bed, and I was not going to make all my passengers sick.”

Aviation workers are already stretched beyond safe limits following a mass exodus of skilled and experienced workers through illegal outsourcing, heavy redundancies, and the Morrison Government depriving thousands of stood-down workers of JobKeeper.

Isolating is not a viable option for gig economy workers paid below minimum wage with no access to support.

TWU National Assistant Secretary Nick McIntosh called for paid pandemic leave to be extended so that essential transport workers can continue carrying Australia.

“Transport workplaces after years of severe disruption cannot sustain covid outbreaks with case numbers through the roof and a third wave expected. Paid pandemic leave is a lifeline that keeps essential workers and workplaces safe. We have lived through the dire consequences of covid outbreaks in transport supply chains, with shelves emptied and rural communities virtually cut off from essential supplies.

“Airport chaos has persisted for months with airlines and aviation companies unable to keep up with demand after illegal and overzealous job cuts of experienced workers and insecure, low-paid work failing to attract new workers.

“Aviation work is highly casualised. Exhausted, overworked airport workers can’t sustain their workplace becoming covid hotbeds with casual workers left no choice but to work while sick or infectious. The alternative is that more workers leave in droves, threatening aviation’s collapse.

“This is a mess of Morrison’s making, but the new Federal Government must step up. Unions won paid pandemic leave because it is crucial in keeping essential industries operating while protecting workers and their families. That need is still as great today as it ever was, if not greater following over two years of workers bearing the brunt of the pandemic,” he said.

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