COVID-19 exemptions sought for frontline waste workers

waste collection

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) is calling on the Prime Minister and state premiers to ensure that frontline workers in the waste and resource recovery industry are included in isolation and quarantine exemptions.

Chronic staff shortages continue to plague essential industries across Australia, including the waste and resource recovery (WARR) sector, where about 30 per cent of staff are in isolation at any one time due to current restrictions on close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Hobsons Bay Council, in Victoria, this week was one of several forced to ask residents to be patient as driver unavailability, due to isolating for COVID-19, meant some collections did not go ahead. Residents were asked to leave any uncollected bins out to be emptied as soon as possible.

Gayle Sloan, WMRR Chief Executive Officer said the collection, transport, and processing of waste are essential to protecting community and environmental health.

“At the moment, a third of our frontline workers are out of action due to the close contact quarantine rules, which risks services being ground to a halt. If this were to happen, Australia will face significant environmental and hygiene issues,” Sloan said.

“The industry is finding alternatives, including running limited services on weekends, but this is only a short-term and unsustainable measure given the forecasted continuation of staff shortages.

“As federal discussions continue this week, we are urgently seeking exemptions for frontline waste workers and ask that the Prime Minister include in his definition of essential, those that provide WARR collection and transportation services across retail, clinical, and kerbside settings.

“The WARR industry is an essential sector that provides vital services to communities and businesses. The same flexibility that is safely awarded to other essential industries must also be provided to frontline WARR workers. This extends to priority supply of rapid antigen tests to ensure that WARR services can continue in a safe and sustainable way to mitigate any risk on the health and safety of communities across Australia.”

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