By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Workers at a Covid-19 infected commercial laundry in Dandenong South have refused to go back to work due to health concerns.
Spotless had directed reluctant employees to work on 28 and 29 July despite a colleague testing positive to coronavirus days earlier.
The infected worker had last been on site on 24 July and 25 July.
There were 147 workers and 88 workers on-site on those respective days, according to their union.
A second worker tested positive four days later.
A Spotless worker, who did not wish to be named, said most of the workforce were most concerned about the health of their families.
Most were newly-arrived migrants living with elderly parents in extended family households, she said.
“No one should be put in this position where we have been made to choose between the health and safety of our families, and being able to put food on the table.”
She said if she got Covid-19, the virus could be spread to her husband and to his large-factory workplace.
“We have a moral obligation to not be the reason people in our community get sick.”
According to the worker, Spotless claimed that it only needed to quarantine colleagues on the sick employee’s “team” – on DHHS advice.
“I don’t understand how it can be fine
“The person moved around everywhere and so many of us interacted with them. We are also sharing a lot of equipment and surfaces.”
Spotless told Star Journal that it immediately undertook contact tracing as outlined by the DHHS.
It identified that no other employees had “close contact” with the sick worker.
However, 18 workers with “casual contact” were ordered to take Covid-19 testing, which revealed the second positive case. Two results were still pending.
After a deep clean, the factory was authorized to reopen by the DHHS.
On 30 July, Spotless withdrew its Fair Work Commission application to stop its employees’ industrial action.
It has also directed all employees in close contact with infected colleagues to quarantine for 14 days, according to the United Workers Union.
But now the issue was who pays for the quarantine, the union says.
The union is pressing for Spotless to pay pandemic leave instead of the minimum award-wage workers using annual leave, personal leave or unpaid leave.
“Low-wage migrant workers have done the right thing by taking a stand for the safety of themselves, their families and the entire community,” UWU executive director Godfrey Moase said.
“Time and time again, corporations shift their responsibilities to stop the spread onto low-wage migrant workers; many of whom don’t qualify for JobKeeper or JobSeeker.
“Spotless Group Holdings are a multi-billion transnational company who get a lot of public contracts.
“They can afford to give back by making sure the workers who are now quarantining get paid.”
On 30 July, Premier Daniel Andrews nominated workplace transmissions as a major factor in the rising Covid case numbers.
He urged people to stop going to work while Covid-positive or while sick and awaiting test results, he said.
“This is a test for all of us. This silent enemy will win if we let it get the better of us.
“Many more people will die and opening up will be only further away.”