A South Australian abattoir has reversed the decision to make COVID positive workers continue working after backlash from trade unions and an order suspension from Woolies. Turns out, it’s not a great idea to force people with an illness back to work!
The abattoir in question is called Teys Australia in Naracoorte, rural SA. It’s been the site of a big COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 140 workers testing positive.
SA Health then gave the meatworks the all clear to let (or should that be force?) asymptomatic COVID positive workers to keep working.
A spokesperson for SA Health told the ABC that a small group of asymptomatic workers could continue to work if they were isolated away from others.
“These workers must remain at home and isolate when they are not at work until they are cleared from COVID,” they said.
Cool, so you can’t see your family, you can’t go to the shops, you can’t recover from the virus in your body, but you can go back to work.
The abattoir’s general manager Sage Murray sent a letter to employees explaining the situation last week.
“As per our call to you today — and as confirmed by SA Health — you are required to present for work tomorrow as normal unless you are feeling unwell,” he said.
“This applies even if you have tested positive to COVID-19 either by a PCR or rapid test, and also if you are currently isolating because you are a close contact.”
So who pays the price for poor government planning and supply chain issues? Workers, of course!
In a statement to News.com.au at the time, a spokesperson for Teys defended the decision.
“Teys Australia works strictly according to the requirements of the relevant health authorities. We continue to work closely and responsively with health departments across several States,” they said.
“No worker has been, or will be, forced to work if they are unwell. In fact, we are specifically instructing our workers not to present for work if they feel unwell or they do not meet the strict requirements of the relevant State health authorities.”
Then, Woolies suspended orders from the meatworks after the Australian Council of Trade Unions criticised SA Health’s decision.
According to The Guardian, Woolies CEO Brad Banducci made the call to cancel the meat after speaking to ACTU president Michele O’Neil.
Side note: Cancel The Meat is a strong contender for the title of my autobiography.
O’Neil had also publicly tweeted at Woolworths about the situation at Teys late last week.
Major @Woolworths supplier @TeysAustralia is telling COVID POSITIVE workers in an SA abattoir to come back to work Monday.
We have THREE DAYS to stop them.
If Teys and Woolworths gets away with it, then which workplace is next?#WTFwoolies
— Michele O’Neil (@MicheleONeilAU) January 14, 2022
Now, the combo of industrial action and the Woolies’ decision has resulted in Teys reversing the order.
O’Neil announced the decision in a celebratory tweet this morning.
“Breaking!! We’ve just been advised. No COVID-positive worker will be forced to work at Teys abattoir after the company agreed to union demands,” she wrote.
“Workers with COVID will be able to isolate, rest at home & recover.”
According to her, the AMIEU (the meatworkers’ union) had been raising alarms about the Teys situation from the offset.
The meat workers’ union, the AMIEU raised the alarm from day one.
The workers started organising on the ground, and the union pushed every industrial, legal and public response tool at their disposal.
The entire union movement backed them in.
— Michele O’Neil (@MicheleONeilAU) January 17, 2022
Turns out forcing sick people back into work to compensate for politicians failing to plan for an outbreak of an illness we’ve been dealing with for two years? Not a great call.