Australian Industries Urge for Consistent Easing of Isolation Rules to Relieve Stress on Supply Chain

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs. Got a tip? Contact her at rebecca.zhu@epochtimes.com.au.
January 12, 2022 Updated: January 12, 2022

Australia’s peak industry employer association is calling on the government to loosen isolation rules for a wider range of essential workers in the economy, similar to the latest changes to the food and grocery sector, to relieve the huge stress the supply chain is currently facing.

“Tomorrow’s national cabinet meeting must agree to workable, consistent rules on COVID testing, isolation, and return to work that are cognisant of widespread shortages, the huge stresses on our supply chains, and the growing number of critical workers out of action,” Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox said.

Willox welcomed the food and grocery essential worker changes but noted large numbers of employees in critical sectors are being prevented from attending work due to different restrictions in different states.

Businesses in food and logistics have reported that 10 to 50 percent of their workforce were sick or in isolation.

“One potential solution is to temporarily lift visa work right restrictions,” Willox said, advocating for the lifting of work rights for all visa holders, which has already been granted to international students.

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Empty shelves of eggs are seen at a supermarket in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 7, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The small business ombudsman met with industry groups and the federal government on Tuesday night to discuss a range of potential solutions to the issues that small businesses were facing.

“Attendees pleaded for nationally-consistent requirements across states and territories in what businesses in critical supply chains and more broadly were required to do, particularly in relation to testing and isolation,” Small Business Ombudsman Bruce Billson told The Epoch Times.

The changes to food and grocery workers was welcomed in the meeting, and policymakers were urged to progressively adopt rules to support the workforce across the economy.

“Attendees pleaded for nationally-consistent requirements across states and territories in what businesses in critical supply chains and more broadly were required to do, particularly in relation to testing and isolation,” he said.

Access to rapid antigen tests (RATs) was identified as more challenging for smaller businesses and called for measures to ensure smaller employers could obtain the rapid tests needed to comply with requirements.

The Australian Airport Association (AAA) also warned that staff shortages could force airports to close or require closures for certain hours.

“It is vital Australia maintains a sovereign air network to keep people connected and freight and supply chain routes open,” AAA spokesperson Hannah Maguire told The Epoch Times. “Airports need minimum numbers of skilled staff to comply with safety and security regulations.”

Maguire noted that a lot of airfreight, including essential medical supplies, is usually carried in passenger aircrafts, so the already reduced movements were impacting supply chains and delivery times.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) also called for the national cabinet to establish clear and nationally consistent guidelines for managing the return of close contacts back into the workforce at tomorrow’s meeting.

“It’s important that the close contact protocols do not become more and more complicated with an ever-expanding list of essential and critical services workers. The common sense and efficient option is to extend these protocols to all workers,” ACCI CEO Andrew McKellar said.

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A sign indicating sold out rapid antigen tests is posted in a Balgowlah pharmacy in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 10, 2022. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

However, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is instead advocating for all Australians to be able to access free RATs, with priority given to frontline workers.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus also warned that the unions will “fight any attempt to water down OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) rules.”

“I have called on the Prime Minister to convene an emergency meeting with the representatives of essential workers to hear directly from them on the actions needed to support workers at this time of crisis, which is inflicting a devastating toll on working people in this country,” McManus said.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) previously called the new rules for food and grocery workers “reckless.”

“To rebuild a healthy workforce, we need to have isolation requirements and rapid testing working together—we can’t have one without the other,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.

Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs. Got a tip? Contact her at rebecca.zhu@epochtimes.com.au.