Industry welcomes Covid close contact changes for freight workers

close contact

The Australian transport, freight and logistics sector has welcomed the national cabinet’s decision to relieve pressures on the industry’s workforce, said the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) in a statement yesterday.

In a move designed to relieve more pressure on the already-strained supply chains, national cabinet has further relaxed the Covid isolation laws for staff.

“That is the one which enables someone who may be a close contact and get a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) … they can go straight back to work,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“Not just those directly involved in food distribution, all in the transport, freight and logistics centre. That will include those who work at service stations.”

In a joint statment with the ATA, Assistant Minister Scott Buchholz said yesterday that the changes were the result of government working with and listening to the needs of industry.

“Throughout this pandemic we have worked closely with the transport and freight industry, including peak bodies and the federal government has acted swiftly and decisively,” said Buchholz.

“Following today’s announcement, transport operators that have a driver who was previously deemed a close contact, if they are non-symptomatic and return a negative test – they can leave isolation, return to work behind the wheel and keep supplies moving.

“As the Prime Minister said, ‘the goal is to protect our hospitals and keep our society and economy functioning’, this is recognition of the critical nature of the transport, freight and logistics sector.

“We cannot keep the economy functioning and Australia moving, without a strong transport, freight and logistics sector and the workforce.

“These changes will help address some of the pressures industry has been telling us about and will enable critical workers to get back to work, we are encouraged by the increase in people returning to work from the previous changes made to close contact classifications.

Assistant Minister Buchholz said the government is aware other pressures exist but is optimistic about the changes being made and we will keep working with industry and working to get the balance right.

The announcement didn’t include any reference to whether freight workers would have access to free RAT tests.

Chairman of the Australian Trucking Association David Smith agreed there is more work to do.

“Whilst the ATA agrees it is a great step forward and these changes will support our industry, the sector knows that there is no silver bullet. As the Prime Minister said today, we are recalibrating our approach regularly,” said Smith.

“We will continue to explore entrepreneurial ways, alongside state and federal government initiatives, through the national cabinet process, which support the industry during this pandemic.

“I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Assistant Minister Scott Buchholz for the work they have done on supply chain issues.

“Workforce shortages were a problem pre-pandemic and the new driver apprenticeship announced last year is a longer-term approach, right now we need to find more non-traditional means of support and I acknowledge the work the federal fovernment has undertaken to address the issues and shortages pertaining to AdBlue supplies for the nation.

“The ATA will continue to work closely with its members, state and federal governments – to bring certainty to the national supply chain.”

Meanwhile, the Transport Workers’ Union slammed the national cabinet decision without the provision of free rapid antigen tests, predicting the transport crisis will significantly worsen in the coming weeks.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said sickness will bring down supply chains already buckling under worker shortages.

“National cabinet has cut the last thread of hope the transport industry had of recovering from chronic worker shortages,” said Kaine.

“Distribution centres will become virus hotbeds sending more essential workers to their sick beds, infecting their families along the way.

“We’re already hearing reports of close contact transport workers forced to return to work, leaving childcare to sick partners. Other close contacts were handed gloves and wipes and told to keep working until they tested positive.

“These are the workers who’ve kept us going throughout the pandemic, now given no choice but to risk their own health and that of their families.”

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