Two hundred frontline workers at Westmead Hospital had to take industrial action before management agreed to supply them with personal protective equipment (PPE).
Cleaners had been asking for shoe covers, hair nets, properly fitted masks and access to showers.
Health Services Union (HSU) delegate Tina Gock-Young told Radio 2GB on July 16 that cleaning staff were fearful of their own health as well as that of their families. NSW Health told the cleaners that they would not be given PPE, so they placed a ban on entering the COVID-19 unit.
“Now they have the insurance that they’ve got the right PPE … and this is good news for us. That we had to fight about it is disgusting,” Gock-Young said.
Workers could not get properly-fitted masks, and were told they could not shower at the hospital before going home. This would have heightened the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 to their families and beyond.
The HSU only imposed the work bans after the union had repeatedly attempted to negotiate with hospital management.
HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said the attitude of Westmead management and NSW Health was “incomprehensible”.
“Our members are asking for basic health and safety provisions. The fact their requests have been denied is incomprehensible.
The pandemic has highlighted the fact that cleaning and sanitising spaces is essential, he said. “This could not be more important than in a COVID unit where patients are being treated.”
“We are in the middle of an unprecedented outbreak [of the highly infectious Deltra strain] in NSW,” Hayes said.
“The absolute bare minimum we can expect is that our frontline workers are protected. Cleaners are just as important to our health system as doctors and nurses, and should be treated with the respect they deserve.”