Unions make our workplaces safer

2020 has been a unique and incredibly difficult year for thousands of SDA members who, as essential workers, have worked on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic since the outbreak began in March.

The SDA has always worked to make workplaces safer, and this year has highlighted just how critical it is for your health and safety to be the number one priority.

Every year, October is National Safe Work Month and the month that the SDA’s annual Safety Demands Action Week (SDAW) is held.

SDAW exists to promote and improve safety in the workplace, and this year it commenced the week beginning Monday 19 October.

In 2020, the focus and themes were dedicated to the role and importance of Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) in workplaces.

SDA Organisers from each branch went out in the days and weeks leading up to SDAW to speak to some of the HSRs and SDA members in their local communities, asking them about their experiences as HSRs and the impact of COVID-19 on their positions.

Impact of Covid-19 on Workplace Safety and HSRs

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on health and safety in workplaces was well documented and, as expected, significant.

Australia’s essential workers, many of whom are SDA members, continually had to adapt and adjust according to the changing recommendations and workplace practices introduced to curb the spread of the virus.

The SDA’s 10-Point Safety Plans
were critical in guiding HSRs, Delegates and members during this testing time.

There were also indirect impacts to workplace health and safety, driven by the pandemic.

Customer violence and abuse also increased at the beginning and throughout the peak of the pandemic in Australia.

According to the National Retail Association’s report into the health and wellbeing of retail workers, there was a sharp increase in customer violence and aggression, with some retailers reporting an increase of up to 400 per cent in aggression and abuse.

HSRs across the country went above and beyond to ensure that their stores and shops were adhering to mandated safety measures, keeping their workmates and the customers safe.

John, one of our Health and Safety Reps at Coles, spoke to us about his role in getting his store to switch from the ineffective and outdated sanitiser they were using to the industry-recommended hand sanitiser they have now.

“It took me quite a bit of time and effort to get all the research together to show [the company] that we needed alcohol-based hand sanitiser.”

At the same time, the SDA was driving this argument with the company and health officials.

Health & Safety in 2020

The SDA and our hard-working members were instrumental in achieving health and safety results across the retail, fast food, warehousing and pharmacy sectors as we tirelessly pushed employers and our industries to keep frontline workers and the community protected.

Without SDA members, many safety measures designed to protect workers during the pandemic would never have been implemented or adhered to.

When the pandemic started, our SDA 10-Point Safety Plans immediately

called for employers to keep you safe through a range of measures including:

-    Paid leave if you had to self-isolate;

-    Plexiglass screens at cash registers;

-    Social distancing measures;

-    Increased security and police to enforce new measures in stores;

-    Hand sanitiser, gloves and masks;

-    Promotion of cash-free transactions and less handling of customer bags.

Importantly, in the midst of panic buying and ongoing unacceptable behaviour from customers, we demanded that shoppers treat retail and fast food workers with respect.

Several employers worked constructively with the SDA on our No One Deserves A Serve campaign and put up clear signs about zero tolerance towards abusive customers.

SDA members not only looked out for each other, but also for the community, and worked extremely hard to adapt to new COVID-19 measures that helped keep the public safe.

There is no doubt that unions make workplaces safer, and this has been especially evident over the COVID-19 pandemic.