COVID-19: Tasmanian unions win protections

A 2018 campaign by Tasmanian nurses for more beds in hospitals. Years of cuts has led to the health system being unable to cope in the COVID-19 crisis.

When public service unions realised the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak, they acted swiftly to protect workers by pushing for additional leave entitlements. Tasmania was the last state to introduce such measures.

The Community and Public Sector Union, the Health and Community Services Union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and other unions representing the public sector successfully lobbied the Liberal government to increase special leave entitlements to 20 days.

This entitlement can be used when personal leave is exhausted and an employee has: contracted COVID-19; is caring for a member of their immediate family with COVID-19 or where a member of their household has contracted COVID-19; when an employee is required to self-isolate; where an employee or officer has dependent children and cannot access school or other care arrangements because of COVID-19; and where an employee or officer is otherwise prevented from working because of COVID-19.

This measure supports public sector workers to stay at home while being paid, rather than going to work sick.

So far, 150 people have tested positive in the state and there is a cluster of cases in the north-west. Of the 78 confirmed cases in the north-west, 49 are healthcare workers, which has forced the closure of two local hospitals for cleaning. Some 1200 staff and their families are now quarantined for 14 days.

Tasmania has the highest per capita COVID-19 death rate of any state or territory, with 5 deaths from the virus at the time of writing, the second-highest infection rate and has the lowest rate of testing.

After many years of cuts to jobs and spending in the health sector, which has left the state in a vulnerable position and unable to cope with the pandemic, the government has now stopped its planned cuts to services, including health, and is desperately trying to recruit health staff.