Unions threaten to take strike action unless employers give free rapid antigen tests

Shameful that it is easier for Australians to catch COVID than it is to find a test kit, says ACTU Secretary

Unions threaten to take strike action unless employers give free rapid antigen tests

In the wake of the Omicron surge that's affecting numerous businesses and industries, unions have threatened to take industrial action unless "employers vow to provide rapid antigen tests (RAT) to their staff".

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) issued its demands after union leaders met and sought protection from companies against Omicron, Sky News said in a report.

The ACTU has also criticised the federal government's "failure" to listen to medical experts, businesses and unions to require RATs "as early as 2020."

"Every Australian has been affected by the Morrison Government's failure to secure a reliable supply of RATs. It is shameful that it is easier for Australians to catch Covid than it is to find a test kit," ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said in a media release.

"It's the time to respond to the voices of workers, employers and the community who all want this issue sorted, so we can have confidence in our ability to keep safe and manage this pandemic," McManus added.

Meanwhile, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that unions and employers "should not be fighting" as this is a "public health" issue.

Australian Chamber's chief executive Andrew McKellar said that businesses have been hit by a “triple whammy,” referring to supply chain shortages, labour shortages and customer uncertainty due to the Omicron variant.

In an interview with Sky News, McKellar said that businesses need to provide safe and healthy workplaces. He said that RATs can be part of the solution but said there is a "fundamental failure" to "adequately get into the marketplace, get these tests ordered by governments and make these tests freely and widely available in the community and to business, particularly to small business."

He said that the "fundamental responsibility" lies with public health measures. "It's not something where unions and employers should be fighting each other on this issue," he said.

When asked if businesses can afford to provide free RATs, McKellar said that the "larger end of the business community may have supplies and can do that" but said for small and medium sized businesses, free RATs is “a huge challenge.”

"We saw some initial survey results coming out of Business New South Wales, showing that at the moment, out of 2000 businesses, about 40% of them are saying they are going to struggle with cash flow to keep going over the next three months."

"They really can't afford to take on extra expense at the moment. This is where we think this is a public health challenge. It's a challenge for National Cabinet, and we are looking for them to help respond if we're going to keep the economy going and balance those economic pressures as well as the pressures on the health system," McKellar added.

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