Australia Union urges businesses to 'hire local' and keep regional Victoria safe from COVID-19

10:32  23 september  2020
10:32  23 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man wearing a hat and sunglasses: The AMWU is concerned McCain Foods is bringing workers to Ballarat from outside the city. (ABC News: Charlotte King) © Provided by ABC Health The AMWU is concerned McCain Foods is bringing workers to Ballarat from outside the city. (ABC News: Charlotte King)

Workers and unions are calling for companies to "hire local" so that urban workers do not bring COVID-19 into regional areas as restrictions on movement ease.

Regional Victoria's case numbers of the virus are far lower than those in metropolitan Melbourne.

As a result, people in regional Victoria are now enjoying a degree of normalcy, and people in Melbourne who are still under lockdown are being told they can only travel to regional Victoria for work if it is deemed "essential".

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Concerns about workers from near Melbourne travelling to one of regional Victoria's biggest cities were raised by workers at major food processer McCain Foods.

The company has a large factory in Ballarat that makes frozen pizza, French fries and other pre-prepared meals.

It has about 30 workers who clean the factory, most of them locals.

But the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) claimed McCain had been increasingly moving towards hiring cleaners from outside Ballarat throughout 2020.

One locally based cleaner at the factory, who did not want to be identified, told the ABC they feared they were on the road to being outsourced, and that the company was trying to cut costs.

"I don't have an issue with where people live, although COVID-19 has exposed the risks of excessive travel for work," the worker said.

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"Employees at McCain have submitted to stringent measures to reduce the risk, and many are unhappy about the increased risk workers travelling from hotspots bring to Ballarat."

McCain Foods confirmed some of its cleaners travelled from outside Ballarat, but maintained it was in small numbers only. However, it would not reveal where the workers were coming from.

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The company said the cleaners were legally travelling to Ballarat and were deemed essential workers.

AMWU delegate Angela McCarthy said the argument did not hold as there were lots of locals who could qualify for the work.

"It might be legal, but that doesn't make it right," Ms McCarthy said.

'Buy local and hire local'

Ballarat Trades Hall secretary Brett Edgington said COVID-19 had highlighted the need for companies to hire local.

"It's important not only for local economies, but also to create a situation where we are not having people travelling from areas while COVID-19 is ongoing, given the possibility of transmissions of the virus," he said.

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"If we were talking about a neurologist or a really highly skilled specialist area that you'd only find in Sydney or Melbourne, I'd understand bringing them in.

"But when talking about plumbers, carpenters, electricians, personal care assistants, nurses, cleaners — there's highly skilled people in the Ballarat region in all of those areas. We have an abundance of them.

"The Federal and State Government messaging has been about buying local. We should also be hiring local."

However, some regional businesses say they are keeping their Melbourne staff away as a precaution.

Several nail salons in Ballarat have been closed for the last week, despite being allowed to operate after restrictions were eased in regional Victoria last week.

This is because most of their nail technicians lived 80 kilometres on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Saigon Nails manager Luna Bui said she had been struggling to figure out if her Melbourne staff could travel to Ballarat.

"I'm not sure. So I've just let the Ballarat staff work first," she said.

The salon opened on Tuesday with just a skeleton staff of local workers, which meant the business took fewer bookings than before the pandemic.

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Premier Daniel Andrews said people who lived in Melbourne could travel to regional Victoria to work in industries that were now allowed to operate there.

"I can confirm that people can travel to regional Victoria for work more broadly and are not bound by the permitted industries requirements in Melbourne," Mr Andrews said.

However, the Premier said some conditions remained.

"The primary rule that if you can work from home, you must work from home remains, regardless of whether you are in metropolitan Melbourne or regional Victoria," he said.

"When a person from metropolitan Melbourne is in regional Victoria, the metropolitan Melbourne restrictions apply to them, even though they're not in metropolitan Melbourne.

"The rules follow them to their work in regional Victoria. For example, they can't be going out to a restaurant for dinner.

"They have a permit to go to work and then to return back to their home in metropolitan Melbourne."

It is unclear how this rule will be be policed.

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