THE Maritime Union of Australia has written to major businesses in Australia’s maritime supply chain seeking the urgent implementation of a consistent, industry-wide framework aimed at preventing viral transmission on worksites.

The union’s proposed framework has been drawn together based on current health advice, along with industry developments internationally, with the aim of ensuring best-practice measures are in place to protect the health and safety of maritime workers.

With approximately 98 percent of Australian imports arriving by sea, including essential medical supplies, food, fuel, and other household items, preventing the spread of this disease is vital to ensuring supply chains remain operational and freight continues to flow safely.

MUA national secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation President Paddy Crumlin said he was surprised and concerned that some Australian businesses, particularly stevedores, had been reluctant to meet and discuss the current situation.

“While workers are acutely aware of the significant role they play in Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some stevedores had taken an unfortunate and unsustainable approach, going it alone rather than embracing a consistent industry-wide solution,” Mr Crumlin said.

“In other areas, such as intermodal and logistics, there has been a much more mature approach.

“That is why we are seeking to urgently meet with key businesses, in particular stevedores, to implement a clear, concise, consistent framework that addresses the identifiable health and safety risks this pandemic poses and acts on the advice of the chief medical officer.

“The scale of this crisis places a collective responsibility on our vital industry to show leadership, find consensus, and implement immediate solutions that protect lives and prevent potential disruptions to our national supply chain.

“Thousands of maritime workers — including tug crews towing ships, linesmen tying them up, and wharfies loading and unloading them — are on the front line ensuring the current health and economic crisis isn’t exacerbated by the breakdown of supply chains.

“While our members remain committed to ensuring freight continues to move smoothly during this pandemic, this can only be achieved if the industry embraces appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on worksites.

“Not only could it be potentially catastrophic for workers who catch this virus, but any illness will cause substantial disruptions as highly-skilled workers are lost from their vital roles.

“We are urging all maritime employers to work with us to implement these protocols to minimise the risk of infection to workers or the general public.”

A copy of the COVID-19 Maritime Industry Framework is available here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GQeiXB9wpfrN46z-dqwwtdF4-1WM_nDP

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WITH THE RELEASE of the Statement of Expectations today by the Australian Energy Regulator, Energy Networks Australia CEO Andrew Dillon said networks were working to assist customers.

"Networks continue to discuss with governments, regulators and retailers about the best ways to support customers through this difficult period,” Mr Dillon said.

"These are unprecedented times for small business, with many around the country being forced to close their doors.

"It is in the best interests of the country that these businesses be supported through what will be a difficult journey.

"Energy networks understand many households are also facing challenging circumstances.

"With many customers now working from home, networks are doing what they can to minimise the impact of planned outages for critical work and to keep them as short as possible," Mr Dillon said.

"Safely keeping the lights on and the gas flowing for the months to come is critically important and networks are continuing to undertake critical works to keep energy supplies safe and reliable.”

Energy Networks Australia is the national industry body representing Australia's electricity transmission and distribution and gas distribution networks. Members provide more than 16 million electricity and gas connections to almost every home and business across Australia. 

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THE Joint Standing Committee on Migration has decided to suspend its inquiry into migration in regional Australia, in light of the economic effects of the public health situation changing the nature of the needs of communities in regional Australia.

“Given the fast evolving situation in Australia and around the world, and the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Committee felt it best to suspend its inquiry,” committee chair Julian Leeser MP said. “The committee was unanimous in this decision, which it does not take lightly.

“The committee will reconsider the matter later in 2020 but would like to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the inquiry so far. Your input and dedication to supporting and developing Australia’s regions is greatly appreciated.”

Any questions about the suspension of the inquiry should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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MY BUSINESS HEALTH, a web portal designed to provide holistic support to small business owners, now features a dedicated section for those struggling with the COVID-19 crisis.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has been inundated with distressing stories of small businesses decimated by the ripple-effects of coronavirus.

“Small businesses are in a world of pain right now, with many forced to close their doors and others fighting to survive,” Ms Carnell said.

“Many of these small business owners will be too busy in their efforts to stay afloat to realise the toll it’s taking on their mental health.

“My Business Health offers simple and practical information to help small businesses find their way through this difficult time.

“This includes the latest information on government support measures as well as assistance with employer obligations, finances, available government payments, loans and tax," Ms Carnell said.

“There are also a number of resources by leading mental health organisations such as Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Everymind that deal with the impact of COVID-19 specifically.

“Personally, I want the Australian small and family business community to know that despite these extraordinary challenges we are now facing, this is temporary and there will come a day when our lives and livelihoods return to normal.

“My office will be working hard to ensure small businesses are supported throughout this difficult journey.

“But during the coming weeks and months, find ways to work on your business – consider the changes you can make to adjust to this new environment if possible – and be kind to yourselves. 

“Try to take time out for your wellbeing because your business ultimately depends on it. Visiting My Business Health is an excellent starting point.”

24-hour telephone support is available via Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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AUSTRALIANS are being urged not to panic about supplies of essential goods, with the Maritime Union of Australia saying wharfies, seafarers and port workers are committed to ensuring supply chains continue to operate smoothly despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The MUA is seeking an urgent meeting with Federal Government and industry representatives to develop a comprehensive plan to address the impacts of Covid-19 on maritime supply chains.

With more than 90 percent of Australian imports arriving by sea, including essential medical supplies, household items, and fuel, ensuring shipping and stevedoring continue operating safely will be vital to prevent the current health and economic crisis being exacerbated by the breakdown of supply chains.

The union today set demands that support the global call from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) for governments and employers to act to maintain sustainable supply chains and protect workers vital to Covid-19 response.

The MUA national secretary and ITF president Paddy Crumlin said the current health crisis has revealed how precarious Australia’s supply chains had become, with all container ships and fuel tankers delivering international supplies to the country now foreign owned and operated.

“Maritime supply chains are integral to keeping Australia moving, with everything from medical supplies and fuel to essential household items arriving at ports around the country,” Mr Crumlin said.

“That is why we are urging the Federal Government to immediately meet with industry and union representatives to develop procedures and policies that ensure our maritime supply chains aren’t cut.

“We are seeking additional resources be made available immediately to allow the mandatory pre-entry inspection of all vessels entering Australian ports, along with vital health and welfare checks for international crew members.

“Workers must also be provided with unlimited paid leave if they need to self-isolate or care for themselves, children, and other relatives, to ensure a lack of leave doesn’t result in people working when it is not safe to do so, potentially exposing others to this virus.”

Mr Crumlin said employers also had a significant role to play, both in the provision of appropriate health and safety measures and by ensuring income support so that no worker is financially disadvantaged.

“We are seeking paid leave for all workers while they await Covid-19 testing, along with unlimited paid special leave for those who return a positive result," she said.

“Workers should also have access to special leave if they need to self-isolate due to potential exposure, along with situations where they need to care for children or relatives, including during mandatory school closures.

“Employers must conduct regular toolbox meetings to provide clear and up-to-date health and safety advice to workers on how they are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The implementation of additional cleaning and decontamination measures on site, along with the provision of suitable PPE where workers are near each other, must also occur.

“Proper consultation with workplace health and safety committees and workers’ elected health and safety representatives should take place in a regular and ongoing manner to ensure emerging risks are quickly identified and appropriate measures put in place.”

ITF statement: https://www.itfglobal.org/en/news/covid-19-itf-global-demands-governments-and-employers

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THE Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors' Association (AMCA), Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), Civil Contractors Federation (CCF), Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Electrical Trades Union (ETU), Master Builders Victoria (MBV), Master Plumbers, National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA), Plumbing and Pipe Trades Employees Union (PPTEU), Property Council Victoria and the Urban Development Institute of Australia [Victoria] (UDIA) have united to send a strong message to the building and construction industry: "Treat this situation very seriously and with the highest importance by adhering to all the recommended safety procedures".

The united group has stressed the need to follow appropriate measures and guidelines which stipulate strict hygiene practices, social distancing and separation of workers on meal breaks, in addition to other measures, to ensure sites can be kept safe and stay open.

Employer groups and unions have worked together to develop guidelines in line with government recommendations and they should be adhered to immediately and followed dutifully by all employers and employees.

The united group has and will continue to follow guidelines from both the National Cabinet and Victorian State Government, which confirms that stage two restrictions do not apply to construction sites and electrical and plumbing services - as these are considered essential activities.

As vital constituents of the economy, it is critical that all stakeholders of the building and construction industry work together to ensure the protection of employers, workers, their families and our community.

The group will continue to work with all relevant leadership and government bodies – including following the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer - to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their collective memberships and the community.

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THE TEXTILE, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) workers’ union is calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deliver on his promise to protect lives and livelihoods by ensuring Australian manufacturing workers are deployed to produce critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to Australian Governments.

Local manufacturers have indicated to the union that they can save jobs by immediately transitioning their production away from clothes to in-demand products like surgical gowns, face masks, clinical waste bags and waste bag closure devices which the Commonwealth is seeking.

The Commonwealth’s Department of Industry put out a Request For Information about Australian industry’s capability to supply these products ten days ago and Australian industry is ready to commence production now. 

“In order for jobs to be saved, all the government needs to do is provide local manufacturers the specifications and orders and production can immediately start,” said TCF sector secretary of the manufacturing division of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union, Jenny Kruschel.

“Using existing TCF supply chains, capabilities, skills and manufacturers’ expertise is the most efficient and effective way to deliver these vital supplies, allowing medical professionals to get on with their jobs and if done right it will save jobs,” Ms Kruschel said.

“It should be a no brainer and we are hoping common sense will prevail and these businesses and workers will be given the opportunity to deliver these orders.”

The union has been in contact with the Commonwealth and several State Governments to try to confirm their growing requirements for medical supplies and PPE. 

With orders from retailers being cancelled, thousands of TCF manufacturing workers have already been stood down, had their hours slashed or been made redundant, but several manufacturers are holding out hope for a fair go in the medical supplies’ contracts.

“Manufacturers are holding on for dear life and holding out hope that the right thing will be done by them and the workforce,” Ms Kruschel said.

“But we need action now, the prompt supply of these protective items isn’t just critical to the health effort, it is vital to saving local manufacturing jobs.

"The union will leave no stone unturned to protect the jobs of our members whilst ensuring the efficient delivery of vital medical supplies to front line medical professionals, hospitals and clinics.

“Workers in the industry are ready to play their part by using their skills to ensure the vital supply of quality products, they just need to be provided the chance."

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POTENTIALLY $100 million could be immediately unlocked to provide a life line for startups, entrepreneurs and emerging companies which are being crippled by the COVID-19 crisis, if applications under the Significant Investor Visa (SIV) program were reopened.

Executive chairman of Atlas Advisors Australia, Guy Hedley called on the Australian Government to give urgent priority to fast-tracking capital flows under the SIV program.

Mr Hedley said there were probably around 40-50 final stage applications under the SIV program that had been stalled since travel restrictions were imposed.

“This could provide up to $100 million in urgently needed funds which could save many startups and emerging companies from closure,” Mr Hedley said.

Since travel restrictions were imposed no visa approvals have been granted enabling these investors to fulfill their complying investment obligations under the SIV program.

Applicants should be permitted to execute their investment obligations while delaying their physical stay in Australia until travel restrictions are lifted, he said.

“An unintended consequence of this is that startups do not have access to money that would otherwise have been available,” Mr Hedley said.

“As a result, the financial health and wellbeing of many Australian start-ups is at stake and unnecessary failures of great entrepreneurial and employment-generating companies could result.”

University-backed investment fund Uniseed and venture capital fund Follow[the]Seed have united with Atlas Advisors Australia, a top SIV fund manager, to call for measures to help startups.

“Reopening approvals under the SIV program would fulfill the program’s original intent to support thin capital markets,” Mr Hedley said.

The COVID-19 crisis follows a serious drop in early stage venture capital investment in recent years.

“Atlas Advisors Australia has allocated more than $40 million to early stage venture capital investors from SIV investors,” Mr Hedley said.

“However, we cannot meet growing demand for early and seed stage ventures who now find themselves heading for the rocks through no fault of their own.

“The Australian Government should harness the opportunity now to support local startups starved of growth capital because of the devastating impact of COVID-19.”

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A SURVEY of Queensland’s resources leaders taken before the impacts of COVID-19 started to unfold found the sector was in a good standing to create an economic buffer in 2020.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the State of the Sector report gave hope to the Queensland economy with the sector in a strong position to maintain production and employment.

"The QRC CEO Sentiment Survey in the report found 55 percent of QRC member CEOs expected to increase their workforce, with 20 percent expecting substantial increases of more than a quarter of their workforce (25 percent). Meanwhile, only 15 percent expected a decrease in their workforce over the same period," Mr Macfalrane said. 

“A lot has changed since this survey was taken and the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, but what it does tell us is the resources sector was performing strongly with future employment intentions very strong.

“The resources sector is taking extraordinary measures to keep their staff, their communities and their state safe.

“QRC and our industry continues to work with all levels of government," he said. "Early on the National Cabinet led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declared our industry as an ‘essential activity’.

“In relation to FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) operations, the Queensland resources sector is working with the State Government to implement protocols to assist with the separation of the community and FIFO workers while in transit. This will ensure the resources sector can continue to deliver its much needed economic benefits to the economy by producing commodities and employing people."

www.qrc.org.au

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell has welcomed the Federal Government’s latest support measures designed to see small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.

Ms Carnell said the economic support package includes: Support for households including casuals, sole-traders, retirees and those on income support; assistance for businesses to keep people in a job; regulatory protection and financial support for businesses to stay in business.

“The Federal Government has listened to the feedback we have provided and responded to the needs of small and family businesses accordingly,” Ms Carnell said.

“In particular, we support the measures extended to sole traders, which make up more than 60 percent of Australia’s business community.

“Importantly, sole traders who experience a significant loss of income, will be eligible for the coronavirus supplement and jobseeker payment which will assist them to continue working for the next six months. 

"The government is providing small and medium sized businesses that employ people with up to $100,000 (minimum payment of $20,000) to assist with outgoings so they can keep their doors open for as long as possible.

“People experiencing financial hardship can now access up to $10,000 of their superannuation this financial year and an extra $10,000 the year after without paying tax," Ms Carnell said.

“The creation of the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme will help businesses gain access to the working capital they need. We support the government’s pledge to guarantee 50 percent of new loans issued by approved lenders.

“Ultimately, this package gives small and family businesses some breathing space until circumstances return to normal, which will play a critical role in their survival and the ability for our economy to bounce back.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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THE Federal Government’s second stimulus package contains welcome measures to support the viability businesses, particularly the viability of small businesses, including sole traders, and non-profit-organisations to keep people in jobs.

“We commend the government for its commitment to doing what it takes to see the country through the health and economic shock of Covid-19 and we restate the importance of building and construction as an essential service,” Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said.

"Economically it's one of the main chances of stimulus measures hitting the ground hard and fast,"she said. 

“Maintaining building and construction activity around the country is one of the most effective ways of injecting money into the economy at this time of crisis. A shutdown on construction sites will have devastating impact on the economy and the well-being of millions of Australians.

"Our industry is already implementing social distancing and risk mitigation policies and we are working collaboratively with trade unions to this end. We will continue to enact measures to safeguard the health of the 1 in 10 Australians employed in our industry and call on governments to keep them in jobs by keeping our industry building,” Ms Wawn said.

www.masterbuilders.com.au

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