Monash University issued with health and safety notice over return to campus plans

National Tertiary Education Union

Monash University has been issued with a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) under Victorian workplace safety law. The Notice is about the University’s failure to consult with staff on its plans to return to face-to-face teaching.

On January 25, Monash University’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr Peter Marshall, announced that the entire university would be returning to face-to-face teaching on February 28.

The University did not properly consult staff or health and safety representatives about this plan, as is required under the Victorian legislation.

The Provisional Improvement Notice was issued by a Monash Health and Safety Representative under section 60 of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004).

The PIN notice directs Monash University to cease work on return to on-site work and face-to-face teaching until genuine consultation has been carried out.

The University has eight days from the serving of the PIN notice to remedy its contravention of Victorian workplace safety law.

NTEU Monash branch President Dr Ben Eltham said:

“We have been contacted by many members in recent days concerned about the University’s plans and their personal safety. There are many staff at this University who are immunocompromised, who have pre-existing conditions, or who care for vulnerable dependents.

“The University’s Chief Operating Officer, Peter Marshall, has misled the Union and misled staff. Mr Marshall needs to carry out his duties under the Victorian act to genuinely consult on workplace safety. He should start by returning our phone calls.

“We all want the University to keep teaching and researching. But staff and students need to be kept safe, and the University has a legal duty to ensure that.”

Background:

The NTEU is gravely concerned about the health of Monash students and staff.

Victoria remains in the grip of a deadly pandemic. 39 Victorians lost their lives to COVID-19 today. Nearly 1,000 Victorians are in hospital with the virus.

The NTEU requested a meeting with Monash University senior management to discuss the University’s plans for semester 1. We met with the Director of Workplace Relations and the University’s chief medical officer on 21 January.

We were told in the meeting that “Omicron is mild” and that “most of us are going to get it”. We were also told that Monash University will not be providing N95 masks or rapid antigen tests to staff.

In the meeting, the Director of Workplace Relations stated that the University had not yet made any plans regarding face-to-face teaching, and that staff and the Union would be consulted before any decisions were made.

That wasn’t true. Three days later, the University made its announcement, mandating face-to-face teaching and on-site work for essentially all Monash staff from February 28 (some staff are already forced to work on-site).

The University then published its latest COVID-safe plan, dated 20 January or the day before the meeting with the NTEU. Clearly, no consultation happened before this plan was written.

Monash University is also forcing Australian domestic students to attend face-to-face classes. While online classes are available for international students, domestic students are having online classes hidden from them by the University’s timetabling system.

The NTEU demands a safe workplace at Monash University for all staff and students

The NTEU demands:

· free provision of N95/KN94 masks for staff working indoors

· free provision of Rapid Antigen Tests for staff working on-site

· proper ventilation for all indoor spaces, not just teaching spaces

· online teaching to remain an option for all students and staff

· genuine consultation about health and safety at Monash University

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