June 2021 Guest speaker, Matthew Harrison, UnionsACT

Jane welcomed Matthew Harrison (Secretary, UnionsACT) who spoke on Injured Workers.

Matt started with an overview of occupational health and safety (OH&S), a very important part of the union movement. Unfortunately the data don’t give a good picture of what’s happening. Bosses are still behaving badly and putting profits before people’s welfare. The data are hard to find, and hard to line up to make use of. [Jane: Worksafe Australia used to keep data.]

The most recent data come from 2019. Only deaths at work are counted; not deaths to and from work, or by natural causes at work, including cancers or suicide (a particular concern of the CPSU). Most deaths are men, and blue collar jobs predominate. The age group most at risk is 55-64, followed by 45-54. There were no workplace deaths in the ACT in 2019; some since. Nationally there were 43 deaths. The NT and Tasmania have low rates; NSW has the most.

Transport is the area with most deaths (including postal workers and warehousing); vehicles in general were a huge source of injuries and deaths.

There are big holes in the system: people are scared to report an injury; people are told by their boss that a report would prevent promotion; non-English-speaking people are oblivious to risk they can’t read about; there are bad OH&S practices everywhere. Injuries which keep people from work less than 5 days are not reported; but this can be a serious injury all the same. And mental stress is of course extremely under-reported.

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August 2020 Guest Speakers, Kasey Tomkins and Matthew Harrison

Kasey Tomkins, UnionsACT campaign manager; and Josh Thornton, AMWU, spoke about the UnionsACT 2020 territory elections campaign. The strategy is to “back candidates who back workers” and the campaign is not party-specific. The candidates are being asked to sign a pledge supporting the unions’ six core values. It is not until the candidates return the pledge that UnionsACT will know which candidates they will be supporting. Election campaigning is restricted, with limited resources and social distancing rules in place, though social media and letterboxing continue.

Matthew Harrison, the new Secretary of UnionsACT, introduced himself to the Vintage Reds and spoke about his settling in time and plans for the future. The Territory elections are his first real project in the new job. The plans for the future include:

- a new injured worker network, including mental health, to cover those who don’t fit the system, and those in smaller unions unable to help.

- a gender violence project, especially welcomed by nurses and hospo workers.

- the young workers’ centre. The “summer patrol” in operation in Canberra has already been renamed the “safety patrol”. Many young workers have been very badly affected by the corona pandemic.