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Home Support Workers May Refuse Unsafe Work If PPE Not Provided

Home support workers say they are scared to go to work because without adequate supplies of personal protective equipment they risk spreading Covid-19 to their clients.

The Public Service Association represents workers in the sector, and while the union welcomes news that domestic production of personal protective equipment (PPE) is to be ramped up it says not enough has been done to ensure home support workers get what they need.

"Our union represents workers across the health and disability sector including community support workers, and we have been flooded with messages from them. They want to keep New Zealand safe but they’re scared they’ll get exposed doing so, or put at risk those they are supporting," says Kerry Davies, National Secretary of the PSA.

"We are extremely concerned that while the number of people infected continues to grow, our members still do not have the safety equipment they urgently need. The government needs to guarantee no health and disability workers are left out, whether they are employed directly by DHBs or they work for NGOs and private companies in the health sector."

Home support workers travel from house to house to provide personal and intimate care to older or disabled New Zealanders. Their clients are often unwell with chronic conditions and compromised health, and may visit over a dozen different homes every day.

Workers across New Zealand have reported difficulty in accessing equipment such as gloves, aprons and masks.

The PSA has met repeatedly with government officials, advocating for the urgent provision of PPE to essential workers and for the Ministry of Health to provide specific guidelines for home support workers.

"In the health sector alone, thousands of PSA members are on the front line right now, battling to keep New Zealand safe. Whether they are in DHBs, mental health, disability or home support, they all need reliable access to PPE ," says Ms Davies.

"Our members are not concerned just for themselves. They are desperate to avoid infecting their clients or other people in the community. The whole reason they are still at work is to keep people safe, so we need to guarantee them the tools to make that happen."

The PSA proposes that in addition to "home bubbles", employers and staff urgently implement "work bubbles" wherever possible. A work bubble would include a small and consistent team of employees assigned to a consistent group of clients.

This will help to contain and track the contagion, while also improving communication and resource allocation.

"Some clients are already refusing to allow workers to visit them, and some workers have already had to resign out of concern for their safety. This cannot be allowed to continue or there will be devastating consequences," says Ms Davies.

"All our members want is the ability to do their jobs without getting sick or infecting others. If safety equipment is not provided, our members have the right to refuse unsafe work and and a growing number will do just that."


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