CSIRO workplaces around the country continue to remain open and accessible – now only to fully vaccinated staff – amid the widespread community transmission of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 across the country.
Meanwhile, news that CSIRO management plan to conduct a fresh audit of site-specific Covid-safe plans and risk assessment procedures resulted in a call for meaningful and genuine consultation with staff and workplace health and safety representatives as part of the process.
The Omicron variant outbreak – which followed hard on the heels of Delta and picked up pace in early December – has led to hundreds of thousands of infections over the summer, for the first time including many CSIRO staff, family and kin.
“It’s important that CSIRO employees remember that there is a range of paid leave provisions and practical support for those impacted – directly or otherwise – as Covid continues to spread,” Staff Association Secretary Susan Tonks.
“Additional individual advice and support is available to Staff Association members through workplace delegates and organisers,” Ms Tonks said.
Despite all workplaces remaining at Phase Four of the organisation’s return to sites plan (and subject to little or few restrictions) CSIRO staff are still being ‘strongly’ encouraged to work from home amid thousands of new Covid case numbers in communities around Australia.
“Some of the State and Territory Governments have recommended that people work from home where it is practical to do so. Regardless of which state or territory you live and work in, we strongly encourage you to work from home where you can,” Situation Management Team (SMT) spokesperson and CBIS Director Dave Agnew said.
“There are reports of relatively high numbers of our people working on some of our sites in the first few weeks of the year.
“We appreciate that some tasks and experiments can only be completed while on site, however, please take the time to consult with your line manager and team leader to review your work plans to limit this as much as possible,” Mr Agnew said.
At a recent meeting with Staff Association representative, SMT reported on the implementation of CSIRO’s vaccine mandate, which came into effect 17 January.
The COVIDSafe Workplaces Direction requires all staff wishing to attend a CSIRO site be fully vaccinated or have a valid medical exemption as a condition of entry.
SMT estimates that more than around 4,500 staff – more than 70 per cent – have successfully complied with the policy that requires a line manager to sight evidence of an employee’s vaccination status and then endorse the declaration.
For the purposes of CSIRO’s policy, the definition of fully vaccinated continues to include two doses of an approved vaccine, in line with current advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) However, SMT says CSIRO will continue to monitor the situation, with speculation that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) may soon issue new advice mandating a third or ‘booster’ dose, leading to new directions and public health orders.
In the wake of the ongoing Omicron outbreak, SMT have announced an imminent review and audit of site-specific Covid-safe plans and risk assessment procedures; following a similar exercise conducted midway last year.
However, that 2021 process attracted criticism at the time for a lack of staff consultation – and critically – limited involvement of workplace Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs).
“The Staff Association is calling for this new audit process to include genuine and meaningful consultation of CSIRO and HSRs from day one, no excuses,” Ms Tonks said.
Elsewhere, the union movement has launched a public campaign pressuring the Morrison Government to provide free access to Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) for all Australians.
The Unions Australia campaign – which encourages people to sign a petition and contact their local member of Parliament – also includes a television advertisement targeting the Federal Government.
The advertisement made a surprise appearance (on high rotation) during the Australian Open tennis women’s final where an estimated 3.6 million viewers tuned in watch home-grown hero Ash Barty defeat American Danille Collins, making the event one of most popular sporting events in the past two decades.
CSIRO are deploying RATs in workplace environments only in limited circumstances and locations, including the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, with any further rollout subject to health advice and overcoming supply constraints.