By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A third worker at a Dandenong South commercial laundry has tested positive as employees refused to go back to work due to health concerns.
Spotless had directed reluctant employees to work on Tuesday 28 July and Wednesday 29 July despite a colleague testing positive to coronavirus days earlier.
It has since closed the factory for deep cleaning. All workers at the site are now required to self-isolate and get a Covid-19 test.
The infected worker tested positive on Saturday 25 July after being on-site that day and the day before.
At least 147 workers were present at the factory at the same time, according to the workers’ union.
A second worker tested positive on Wednesday 29 July, and a third on Thursday 30 July.
A Spotless worker, who did not wish to be named, said they had taken a stand for 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.”
In contact tracing, Spotless identified that no other employees had “close contact” with the sick worker.
However, 18 workers with “casual contact” were ordered to self-isolate and take Covid-19 testing, which revealed the subsequent positive cases.
On 30 July, Spotless withdrew its Fair Work application to cease the employees’ industrial action.
The factory closed that evening for deep cleaning.
Spotless told Star Journal that after the first positive test, it had immediately undertaken contact tracing as outlined by the DHHS.
After an initial deep clean, the factory had been authorised to reopen earlier in the week.
“Spotless will implement any additional measures recommended by DHHS so that it can re-open safely,” Spotless stated on 30 July.
“All employees will be advised to isolate, seek immediate testing and be cleared prior to returning to work.”
The United Workers Union says the issue now is who pays for the quarantine.
It 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.”