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Union slams plastics manufacturer

Union slams plastics manufacturer for not prioritising worker safety

E tū says employers need to demonstrate transparency and put workers’ safety first, after a South Auckland plastics manufacturer delayed alerting its workers to a positive COVID case and continues to refuse to pay workers who are not working as a result of the lockdown.

Almost two weeks ago, a worker at Sistema Plastics tested positive for COVID-19. But colleagues who were on shifts with the person before they returned a positive test were not informed until last Friday.

The factory is now closed until Wednesday 1 September.

Many Sistema workers have also been left struggling financially during the lockdown because, aside from planned shutdowns, the company has directed those not at work to either take annual leave or face leave without pay.

With the company only operating at around 10% capacity in Alert Level 4, this represents a huge number of workers of its estimated 600-strong workforce.

E tū team leader Jen Natoli says companies need to act in good faith, particularly in times of crisis, and put workers’ safety and wellbeing at the forefront of all their decision making.

She says she’s concerned about Sistema’s lack of action to protect the health and safety of its workers.

“Our members are scared of COVID-19. They are worried about their workmates and their families – no one wants to get sick. The health of workers providing essential services has the potential to affect us all.

“But how can they make informed choices about safety if they don’t know what’s going on at their work? And how can they stay home and not take risks if they aren’t being paid when they are off work?

“The company should have told their workers about the positive case far earlier than it did, and it has an obligation to pay them as they stay home.”

Jen says Sistema assured E tū that it had followed public health advice, and publicly stated that, as the person “wasn’t at work” from the time they were exposed to the virus, no further action needed to be taken.

However, privately the company told E tū that the person had attended work, but were not deemed to be contagious on the two days they worked before going on to test positive.

She says the union had hoped that Sistema had turned a corner in its health and safety practices after hundreds of workers walked off the job in March 2020 during the first lockdown, protesting the lack of physical distancing and other safety measures at the site.

The collective action and subsequent negotiation led to all workers receiving their full entitlements, and being kept safe at the same time.

This time, with workers having to use up their annual leave or effectively go without pay, Jen says the company needs to think about more than just its bottom line.

“Workers who are vulnerable, have childcare and whānau responsibilities, and other reasons for not wanting to take the risk of working when there is such a virulent strain of COVID in the community are financially punished.

“Many of Sistema’s workers can’t afford not to go to work and, as we have seen, at the possible expense of their own – and in turn, the community’s – health and safety.

“We want to see Sistema offer the same terms and conditions to its workforce this lockdown as it did last time – complete shutdown for the duration of Alert Level 4 without making the workforce pay.”

© Scoop Media

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