Safe transport roadmap against Covid is key to Australia reopening: TWU
The Transport Workers’ Union and the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organization have written to the National Cabinet to establish a virus-safe ‘transport roadmap’ involving rapid antigen testing, transport vaccination centers and a plan National Aviation Authority to support the safe reopening of the country.
The roadmap – endorsed by leading epidemiologist and former World Health Organization consultant Professor Adrian Esterman – would create uniform rules for borders, testing and vaccination requirements, developed in consultation with experts from the transport industry.
The aviation plan would retain skilled workers from airports through AviationKeeper and ensure all airports have rapid pre-flight testing for passengers and crew to protect the besieged industry from future covid shocks and inspire greater confidence in travel as restrictions ease.
Access to immunization to fit the work habits of transport workers and support through paid leave provisions will overcome barriers to immunization highlighted in recent TWU worker surveys. transports. Government-funded rapid antigen tests, requested by hundreds of NSW bus drivers during a two-hour work stoppage on Monday, would reduce the risk of workplace transmission and spread to the world. nationwide by detecting covid positive cases early in road transport and airports.
Transportation has been a critically neglected industry throughout the pandemic, leading to massive covid outbreaks and subjecting transportation workers to painstaking and punitive testing regimes, border chaos and lack of access to truck stops. The federal government has not prioritized vaccines for road or air transport workers, nor has it put in place uniform industry-guided covid rules.
In recent months, thousands of people across the country have been forced into isolation after exposure to the virus linked to transport.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine has said any plans to safely reopen Australia’s Fortress cannot repeat the same mistakes that have devastated transport over the past 18 months.
“As state premiers move away from a goal of zero net covid, a new approach must be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. Transport workers are calling for a national plan to support their essential high-risk industry and this is long overdue. The National Cabinet must seize this opportunity to establish a safe transportation roadmap as a national priority to support the health of our communities and our economy.
“The immunization goals are good, but they are not a quick fix; they greatly reduce but do not eliminate the spread. That’s why we need a robust covid defense strategy focused on the specific risks posed by the nature of critical transport jobs that can easily carry the virus across the country. Combining access to vaccination with rapid antigenic testing can give workers and the community the utmost confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place when the country reopens, ”he said.
ARTIO National Secretary Peter Anderson said now is the time for the National Cabinet to act.
“Any discussion of learning to live with COVID is hollow unless there is a plan to bolster the health defenses of an industry as critical as transportation, which has the potential to shut the country down if good measures are not in place. Much of our COVID response had to be reactive, but now we have the opportunity to chart a proactive course to build a stronger transportation sector and a more resilient economy, ”he said.
Professor Adrian Esterman, a leading epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, believes that the roadmap proposed by the TWU “is a big step forward and, if implemented, would significantly reduce the risk of interstate transmission of the virus “.
- Rapid antigenic tests can produce results in 20 minutes. The test consists of a nasal exchange that does not require laboratory analysis to produce a result.
- Approximately 20 different rapid antigenic tests have been authorized by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for administration by a healthcare professional. WADA and the Federal Minister of Health have indicated that self-administered home tests may be approved soon.
- The Washington state government recently introduced a rapid border antigen test after truck drivers unknowingly entered the state while infected with covid.
- Hundreds of NSW bus drivers staged a work stoppage on Monday calling for rapid antigen testing to protect workers and passengers.
- Rapid antigen tests are currently in use at airports around the world, including London and at terminals in the United States, Ireland and Turkey.
- The rapid PCR test – also a nasal swab test – is already in use at Sydney Airport for international travelers, with results within an hour.
- The TWU has already written to the Prime Minister asking for rapid testing and priority access to vaccines for road and air transport workers. Click here for the letters.
Surveys of transport workers
- In July and August, surveys found that half of air and road transport workers respectively had not yet received a dose of the vaccine.
- Surveys have highlighted obstacles to vaccination, including difficulty finding time to change work habits, fear of losing pay to get vaccinated and lack of appointments.
- Three in four aviation workers supported rapid pre-flight tests for passengers and crew.
- Only 2% of road transport workers were supported by their employer to get vaccinated, while less than 10% raised concerns about vaccination, showing that lack of access and support hampered rates vaccination, not worker resistance.
- About half of the truck drivers had worked in covid hotspots and a quarter had stood in line for several hours to get tested. Many drivers have reported losing their jobs due to testing and border requirements, and some have had to self-isolate in their trucks.