With the possibility of further relaxation to the criteria of businesses considered ‘essential’ and permitted to operate during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, FIRST Union is today providing a checklist of minimum working conditions and entitlements that ought to be met if companies will be attempting to claim ‘essential’ status and remain open, including access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for all workers, a living wage, a higher duties allowance and suitable social distancing measures.
"If the Government intends to relax the definition of ‘essential services’ to include a greater variety of retailers and other businesses, they should be able to pass a litmus test of a few basic conditions that would set minimum standards for people being asked to work during the lockdown," said Jared Abbott, FIRST Union Secretary for Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing.
"The first and most important criteria is that those businesses seeking to operate are genuinely essential and have adequate PPE available prior to opening."
"It’s not good enough if the would-be trader has a line on some masks, or is intending to get a shipment, or planning to deploy them soon - they must be on hand, and ready to distribute to any workers who will be on the job during the lockdown immediately."
"We accept that the provision of household goods like heaters and kitchen equipment will become increasingly important as we move into winter, but there must be real stringency in assessing which businesses - and which parts of which businesses - are genuinely providing essential services."
"The bar must be high, as our members in retailers like The Warehouse, Farmers and Briscoes have real concerns that they could be sent back to work doing normal retail duties rather than refocusing operations to explicitly meet the kinds of needs the Prime Minister is rightly describing as essential."
"At a large retailer, for example, heaters might be considered essential, but picture frames or vases or luxury items should not be - and some businesses unfortunately cannot be trusted to set those standards themselves, as profits are the only ‘essential’ things to some employers."
"Second, any business seeking to remain open should be paying, at minimum, the current recommended living wage of $21.15 to all staff members for each hour’s work. If they aren’t, they should make it so immediately - unions can assist them in getting this done quickly."
"We also believe that businesses should follow the example set by supermarkets and pay a higher duties allowance of 10% to its workers for the duration of their operations during the lockdown."
"As a market rate, this would compensate both for their extra risks, duties and stress during the lockdown as well as going some way to address the historical fact that service workers in particular have been consistently underpaid and undervalued, and society is only now waking up to how important the work they do is."
"Finally, alongside adequate PPE being ready to deploy, businesses seeking to be classified as ‘essential’ and allowed to remain open should be rigorously observing social distancing plans that reflect best practice and the latest available advice from health agencies."
"I urge all businesses who intend to make a case to stay open to take a long look at their operations before they do so and make these minimal adjustments so that workers can be protected, valued and retained through this crisis."
"Employers are welcome to contact us for further advice on any of these issues."