CORONAVIRUS cases have been reported among wharfies at Hutchison’s Port Botany operation.
Hutchison has confirmed two cases, albeit it says they were not workplace transmissions and the company has been given the “all clear” by health authorities.
Hutchison Ports Australia says it consulted with local health authorities and SafeWork NSW and took steps recommended by regulatory bodies.
HPA says it also worked with the NSW Health Department and the employee in a contact tracing exercise to determine who may have been a “close contact” of the infected employee.
According to HPA, while no “close contacts” were confirmed, 17 staff were categorised as possible “close contacts” after an internal review. Each of those 17 workers have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days, remaining on full pay.
A second staff worker reported to HPA on Sunday, April 5, that they had also tested positive to COVID-19.
The employee informed HPA that NSW Health had advised them the infection period began on 29 March 2020, meaning the employee had not been at the site during the infectious period.
HPA CEO John Willy said the health and safety of their workforce was “absolutely paramount”.
“Our management worked with NSW Health to identify possible close contacts of the first case, and as a precautionary measure, Seventeen people who were deemed by us as possible close contacts – but not confirmed close contacts – were instructed to self-isolate for 14 days while we continue to pay them,” he said.
“We have worked with SafeWork NSW and they have not imposed any operating restrictions. We would only allow our workers on site if it was meeting all health requirements.
“At each step of the way HPA has communicated to staff the latest information within hours of being presented information and establishing the facts,” he said.
“The only thing the company has not revealed to staff – or the union – are the identities of infected employees for privacy reasons.
“I want to reiterate that our two positive staff cases of COVID-19 were not workplace transmissions.”
Mr Willy said HPA had worked proactively within both its Sydney and Brisbane terminals, with measures including the appointment of a pandemic disease manager to manage emergency responses, COVID19 contact officers for all employees to seek support and advice as well as implementing policies and procedures detailing stringent social distancing and hygiene controls.
“What we all know as people living in affected Australian communities is that COVID-19 is with us for some time and HPA has been well prepared to manage this ongoing situation in order to keep critical supplies including medicines and other essentials flowing to the Australian public,” he said.
But MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said a coronavirus-positive worker had undertaken six shifts in the terminal since March 24 and it was wrong for the company to treat matters as “business as usual”.
“We don’t believe the company has been thorough for whatever reason in identifying potential exposure on the job,” Mr Smith said.
“People have been missed. We think by failing to report all workers who came into direct contact with machinery or workplace facilities used by the workers with the confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses leaves huge gaps that the community will pay for.”
The MUA has demanded “an urgent meeting” with NSW Health and the company, seeking full disclosure around all matters and allowing it to become involved and to help in future plans.