More workers could be exempt from Covid isolation rules for close contacts
By Sourced Externally
January 12, 2022
Scott Morrison will hold crisis talks over Australia’s supply chain havoc with more changes to isolation rules for workers under consideration.
The Prime Minister and other senior government officials will continue crisis talks on Wednesday, to decide which essential industries should be exempt from quarantine to protect precarious supply chains.
Around the country, supermarket shelves are empty and other critical services are being forced to close as Omicron wreaks havoc on supply chains and staff rosters.
Premiers and chief ministers are preparing to approve changes to isolation rules for workers in food and grocery supply jobs, meaning asymptomatic close contacts will not need to isolate and can return to work to keep stock on shelves.
Industry leaders across the childcare and education, aviation, transport and energy sectors are among those in discussions with the government to consider how they too can be protected amid widespread Omicron-related staff shortages.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister will convene a meeting with the National Coordinating Mechanism – led by Karen Andrews – and other relevant ministers, to discuss Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advice that will allow greater flexibility in balancing the need to reduce transmission against a detrimental loss of workforce.
Scott Morrison earlier this week acknowledged that Omicron-related workforce shortages and supply disruptions were putting Australia in a “tough time”.
“There aren’t lockdowns but there are many people obviously impacted by being close contacts or people being wary, or those indeed who have Covid themselves,” he said on Monday.
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash will meet with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other employer groups on Wednesday to discuss potential changes.
She’s expected to face some resistance from ACTU, after secretary Sally McManus labelled the changes to isolation rules “crazy and dangerous”.
In an open letter to the government, Ms McManus said unions were prepared to work closely with government.
“In 2020, we were constantly meeting with your government to ensure that decision making included a consideration of issues affecting workers,” she said.
“This needs to be reinstated to ensure that decisions made that affect working people are made after consulting working people.”
The ACTU has also made a list of demands – restoring pandemic leave for close workplace contacts, free rapid antigen tests, and upgrading a mask mandate to N95 or P2 masks.
Late on Tuesday night, Acting Small Business Minister Anne Ruston and Small Business Ombudsman Bruce Billson convened a forum, with attendees representing convenience and petrol stores, farmers, truckies, restaurants and caterers, retail workers, pharmacists and pilots.
The Department of Health and the Department of Home Affairs are holding meetings with the health and transport sectors respectively.
Some of the services under consideration to be deemed “essential” also include veterinary and animal welfare, therapy – which includes physiotherapy and mental health support – clinics and laboratories, and waste resource recovery.