Transport workers believe the decision to wind back close contact isolation requirements in NSW is reckless and will threaten the health and safety of staff, while exacerbating supply chain disruptions.
The Transport Workers Union is urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to include unions in an urgent supply chain meeting scheduled for Sunday afternoon to properly hear their concerns.
It says NSW Health’s decision to wind back self-isolation requirements for close contacts who work in critical industries like food logistics means employers will be able to prioritise operational matters over the safety of workers.
“Scrapping isolation requirements for transport workers is beyond reckless—workers are being thrown to the wolves by a government that continues to ignore all the warnings,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said in a statement on Sunday.
“We know even if you’re asymptomatic you can still spread the virus.”
He said requiring potentially sick people to go to work won’t make supply chains healthy.
“Sick drivers won’t get stock onto supermarket shelves any faster but it will certainly help the virus hitch a ride across Australia,” Kaine said.
NSW Health’s decision requires asymptomatic close contacts to wear masks and take daily rapid antigen tests, but the union says rapid antigen tests alone don’t offer enough protection as they won’t pick up every COVID-19 case.
“Someone who is a close contact is by definition the greatest risk of passing it on—the NSW government is effectively scrapping the last buffer we had left to protect workplaces,” Kaine said.
“To rebuild a healthy workforce we need to have isolation requirements and rapid testing working together—we can’t have one without the other.”
He said the TWU wrote to the prime minister and national cabinet in September and October urging governments to provide rapid tests to road transport workers to avoid unnecessary delays and keep drivers on the road.
“Instead, we have a completely predictable scenario where drivers are delivering rapid tests to be sold on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies, but they, like most Australians, can’t access them themselves,” he said.
By Colin Brinsden