Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Pandemic leave for aged care workers

The Fair Work Commission has ruled aged-care workers are entitled to two weeks' paid leave if  required to self-isolate, as Victoria identified 532 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday driven by infections in aged care. The ruling includes casual employees “engaged on a regular and systemic basis”. Eligible workers cannot be receiving JobKeeper or other payments, and must have exhausted all other leave. The commission found low-paid employees were likely to be placed in “significant financial difficulty” when forced to self-isolate and may go to work while sick. The commission ignored a push by unions to extend paid pandemic leave to the sector in April. Of Victoria's 4,542 active cases, 683 have been linked to aged-care facilities. It comes as the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility warns that labour-hire arrangements in the Victorian private security industry, linked to the rise in cases, put workers at risk of “severe exploitation and even modern slavery”. The Age meanwhile reports two Victorian government agencies withdrew staff from overseeing hotel quarantine because of fears it was an unsafe environment.

A confidential 650-page Treasury report warns that workers face lower wages if legislated increases to superannuation proceeds, reports news.com.au. The superannuation guarantee is scheduled to rise to 10 per cent in July 2021, before rising to 12 per cent in 2025. Grattan Institute economist Brendan Coates echoed the report, claiming workers “ultimately pay for almost all of” increased super through lower wages. Industry Super Australia warned a proposal to allow low-income workers to opt out would leave them with higher taxes and lower retirement incomes. It comes as former union boss Paul Howes, an opponent of increased super contributions, is appointed to the National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission to advise on superannuation and workplace relations reform. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have this month applied for early super withdrawals.

An evacuation warning has been issued for Sussex Inlet on the New South Wales south coast as wild weather continues to batter the state. The NSW SES warned that “properties will be flooded above floor level, road access will be lost, sewerage lines and power to the area may be lost. If you remain in the area you may be trapped, and it may be too dangerous for NSW SES to rescue you.” Heavy rains and wind gusts of up to 113km/h caused thousands of homes to lose power.  Moderate flood warnings have also been issued for Canowindra, in the central west of NSW, where rain has been welcomed by drought-stricken farmers.

United States President Donald Trump's national security aide Robert O'Brien has tested positive for Covid-19 as Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds touch down in Washington DC for defence talks. His recent contact with other high-ranking defence figures is unclear. The virus has so far killed more than 147,000 Americans and infected 4.26 million others across the country, according to Johns Hopkins University. Both ministers will have to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Australia. The US is expected to further pressure Australia to ramp up patrols in the disputed South China Sea as confrontations with China escalate.


“Each nursing home cluster – there were 45 homes affected by mid-week – presented a clear and present threat for Victorian authorities, but the situation at Menarock Life was uniquely troubling. The facility’s operator had faced penalties before, and issues of the past had come back to haunt them.”


“For master marketer Scott Morrison, it is all about slashing green tape; get rid of all that tiresome regulation and let her rip. And the easiest way to do that is to get right out of the way, leaving what is left of Australia’s vandalised ecosystem to the less-than-tender mercies of rapacious premiers obsessed with either digging up the land or building on it. Morrison’s anti-environment minister, Sussan Ley, is right into the bulldozers – she is beginning negotiations with the states even as I write this.”


“Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s hands were blue as he stood behind his lectern, physically distanced from Scott Morrison in the prime minister’s courtyard on Tuesday. The pair were holding an outdoor news conference on an icy Canberra morning, and nothing the country’s two most senior politicians had to announce could thaw the wintry malaise that’s set in across much of Australia. The chilling realisation is that they, like the rest of the nation, are at the mercy of a virus that is threatening to get out of control.”


“Australia's consumer watchdog has launched legal action against Google, accusing the online giant of misleading customers about the use of their personal data. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges Google failed to properly inform its users - and did not gain their consent - before collecting data on their internet activity for targeted advertising.”


“COVIDSafe was sold as Australia's ticket out of lockdown. But almost three months since launch in late April, its impact is hard to measure. Victoria has accessed data from the app almost 400 times, but health authorities are yet to point to any potential Covid-19 exposure that was not picked up by manual contact tracing ... security expert Vanessa Teague, chief executive of Thinking Cybersecurity, believes Australia should move to the Google-Apple API.”


“Maori Sakai imbues a bit of whimsy into otherwise mundane scenes through her delicately illustrated animations. Each gif is rendered largely in pastels and captures simple movements: a record spinning on a turntable, rain falling outside a window, and butterflies hovering around hydrangeas.”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.