Willox, Frydenberg respond to ACTU Covid approach

Employers to bear costs of limitless tests is unworkable, said the Chief Executive of Ai Group, Innes Willox, while the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, also weighed in on the matter.

This comment follows union demands for Australian businesses to front the bill for potentially limitless Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) in the face of Omicron variant of Covid-19 ripping through the country.

“Many businesses are struggling to survive and to preserve jobs of their employees,” said Willox.

“The [Australian Council of Trade Union’s] claim for all employers to provide free RATs to their employees once supply issues are resolved, in addition to upgraded masks and improved ventilation, fails to take into account that the measures that are reasonably practicable to address WHS risks will differ from workplace to workplace.”

One size, according to Willox, does not fit all.

“Employers in consultation with their workers are responsible for ensuring the work health and safety of their employees and they take this responsibility very seriously,” he said.

“The legislation requires that employers assess risks and implement effective controls. Appropriate controls will differ from workplace to workplace depending upon the nature of the employer’s operations and other factors.

“While of course workers cannot be required to work in an unsafe situation, the ACTU’s threats of work stoppages are not appropriate. Also ‘cookie cutter’ approaches to controlling Covid-19 risks in workplaces are not helpful.

“Instead of issuing edicts from afar that inflame the situation, add to uncertainty and which, if adopted would make things worse for employers, employees and the economy, we should allow employers to continue to calmly take sensible measures to maintain Covid safe workplaces.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg recently commented on the unions’ demands for businesses to provide free RATs.

He told media that while some employers will and others won’t if someone is sick and they are a designated close contact they can visit a state clinic and get tested at no cost to them.

This cost will be picked up 50:50 by the Commonwealth Government in partnership with the State Government.

“It’s not a choice between one person’s job and one person’s health,” he said.

“In fact, what we are trying to do is protect jobs and use the best medical health advice to do so.

“The isolation requirements were changed by National Cabinet after advice from the Chief Medical Officers and it’s disappointing, to say the least, to see the unions out fear-mongering, stoking fear in the community – telling falsehoods. No one is talking about letting it rip. What we’re saying is that Omicron is a new phase of the pandemic, and hundreds of thousands of people are getting the virus like myself and they may need to isolate.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg at Glen Cameron Group headquarters in Bayswater.

Frydenberg demonstrated his interest and commitment to the road transport industry by participating in a conversation with Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, Victorian Transport Association CEO, Peter Anderson, Glen Cameron of Glen Cameron Group and reporter, Fiona Willan, at a Cameron’s site in Bayswater North on 18 January 2022.

Sukkar emphasised to the whole team at Cameron’s just how grateful the Government is to those working in the supply chains.

“It’s probably not something Australians have thought of in great deal previously, but there’s a great deal of gratitude that we all have for this industry,” he said. “And the dedication and hard work of the men and women at places just like Cameron Group is something we’re very grateful for.”

Anderson said it was important for industry to be recognised for the value it contributes to society and communities.

“We’re grateful that the Federal Government is actually recognising this importance and is actually doing something about what is needed to ensure that the companies that deliver the goods to all of us remain viable and operating as efficiently as they can,” he said. “We’re grateful that the Government is actually recognising the importance of the supply chain and those operators within the supply chain.”

Facing Omicron, Frydenberg explained what the Government is doing now is learning to live in as safe a way as possible with the virus.

“Following the medical advice but being pragmatic; having a balanced response ensuring that our response is proportionate to the health risks; seeking the best possible health and economic outcomes,” he said. “That’s why the Morrison Government has worked with the states and the territories through national cabinet to change the isolation rules to ensure that if you are asymptomatic and you haven’t tested positive, that you can get back to work and you can play an important role, whether it’s in the DC, the distribution centre I was at yesterday in Laverton with Coles, or here at the trucking business or many other businesses across the supply chain.”

On the subject of free tests from Government, Frydenberg confirmed tests were being ordered for businesses to help them test their staff.

“I know the business I’m at right now has ordered tests and is providing it to its staff,” he said. “Yesterday, at Coles, they were providing rapid antigen tests to their staff. There are businesses that are providing those tests to their staff. But, as I said, if you are sick, or you’re showing the symptoms of Covid, you can turn up at a state clinic right away and get tested at no cost to yourself. We have to recognise the rapid antigen tests are one piece of a much broader jigsaw here, and we are providing support right across the board including funding these tests. So far with respect to PCR tests, we, as a Commonwealth, have put in $2.5 billion already; 53 million tests have been provided. We’ve been picking up the tab for the Medicare tests in full and then we’re going 50–50 with the states on the state clinics. We’ve been providing tests right through from the start of this pandemic.”

In related news, disparity in the retail price of the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) in Australia is being investigated by the nation’s competition watchdog.

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