Workers' Rights in a Health Pandemic in Correctional Centres – Union Update

Posted on March 13, 2020

This week, Together representatives have been involved in key briefings from the Queensland Health Minister, Chief Public Health Officer, Public Service Commission, the Queensland Industrial Relations Minister and from QCS.

There are new meetings daily and we know that the Health advice is constantly being reviewed and updated based on the international spread of the virus as well as the changing local circumstances. 

The Queensland Health website is an important source of information:www.health.qld.gov.au

If you are concerned about your own health or need advice about what to do, if you think you have the virus or have been exposed, you should contact: 13HEALTH (Call: 13 43 25 84). These workers can guide you on what you should do, if you should report to somewhere to be tested, or if you should follow any other particular quarantine requirements.

What we are hearing from leaders across the public sector is:

  1. The State Government want to make sure that workers are supported and that all Queenslanders are as safe as they can be.
  2. You are all essential to the work needed to contain the virus and so you being safe and also not coming to work sick is essential.
  3. While the “pandemic leave” directive is not yet in place for COVID-19, we have given feedback on this to government and we believe it will be released imminently. Managers are trying to assist workers access appropriate leave and local HR areas are there to support. This will include giving access to paid special leave even now when the Pandemic Directive is not yet in place if staff require leave associated with the virus.
  4. The government is coming from the perspective of public health being a priority and that no worker should be disadvantaged and to try and provide as much support as possible. This will include making telecommuting or alternative work arrangements as available as possible if there is to be a need to work from home for a period.

It is important to take your health and safety as workers seriously. Follow the advice of Queensland Health and your local health and safety representatives about infection control and quarantine guidance. At this stage, the advice on hand-washing and good hygiene generally is key. Queensland Health has 6 steps to successful handwashing posters that you can display, and a 20-second routine 2 minute video to share.

The list of countries that travellers returning from should self-quarantine in order to avoid further infection is being updated regularly. There is information at all ports about this and workers can submit tickets and advice of travel to managers when requesting working from home arrangements or the need to take leave and quarantine.

LEAVE AND PAY

For those non-custodial staff in correctional centres, employers are working towards providing access to telecommuting or options to work remotely where you cannot attend work due to needing to be in self-isolation, because your workplace is closed, if you have caring responsibilities or if you cannot get to work due to quarantine.

We have been advised that the Queensland Government will release an updated “Pandemic Directive” imminently. This will provide additional paid leave to public sector workers impacted by the pandemic response - including if you need to self-isolate, care for children if schools are closed or you cannot attend your workplace.

Together has also given feedback that the government should extend requirements to give paid leave to labour hire and contract workers who are engaged by the government in order to ensure that workers who are sick are not feeling like they must attend work and potentially spread illness. We will alert all public sector members when this is released.

QCS PREPARATIONS

QCS is briefing us regularly as to the extra planning they have underway, the latest is as follows:

Strategies include:

  • Plans for dealing with reduced staffing with staged reduction of operations down to minimum levels required for feeding and medicating.
  • Restrictions on visitors to Correctional Centres.
  • Development of FAQs on the outbreak and the impact on staff (we will post these on the Members Only Facebook Page as soon as we receive them).
  • Daily reporting requirements will be implemented to report on the status of impact in centres on instances of staff and prisoners:
    • Sick
    • Isolated/quarantined
    • Confirmed with COVID-19
  • PPE is currently centralised at BCC, QCS is engaging with providers to maximise quantities noting that Health Services have current priority
  • QSS planning is prioritising timesheets and pays to ensure staff get paid
  • SOPs dealing with outbreaks in centres are in development in conjunction with Q Health, scenarios include where COVID -19 has been diagnosed in:
    • staff
    • Single prisoners in units
    • Multiple prisoners in units

Updates and advice will be posted on our Facebook page as we receive it.

If you need advice or support about the impact of the health pandemic on your work please get in touch. You can call your union office on 1800 177 244.

We will continue to update members as we know more.

1800 177 244
members@together.org.au