Freight and supply chain workers considered essential but not a priority for governments

Freight and supply chain workers have been at the frontline since the beginning of the pandemic.

In March 2020, Australia confronted distressing scenes of empty supermarket shelves and vulnerable community members going without due to panic buying.

Industry mobilised to meet our communities’ needs and were deemed as essential workers.

In response to the COVID-19 threat, we saw the efficiency and speed by which public policy and legislation could be drafted and enacted by the National Cabinet approach and ultimately reaped the benefit of the federation working together.

However, it is now evident this approach has once again fallen back to COAG’s old familiar, habitual practices. Cabinet leadership is disenfranchised, with each State and Territory going their own way based on the risk profile of their leaders and at times neglecting the best advice on hand.

We are witnessing this through the glacial pace of the national vaccination rollout and snap lockdowns.

Everyday Australians now appreciate the essential work undertaken by freight and supply chain workers.

Unfortunately, Government lacks empathy towards this workforce.

Governments have failed these workers by their lack of inclusion in the early phases of the vaccine rollout. With each new set of lockdowns, we see new requirements thrust onto this workforce, often without prior warning.

Many workers report having undergone over 50 tests since the start of the pandemic; however, they continue to get on with their job despite increased requirements and stress of going into high-risk situations.

The sector’s workers undergo mandatory COVID surveillance testing every seven days and as frequent as every 72 and 24 hours in some jurisdictions to facilitate travel between state borders delivering essential items to communities.

It makes logical sense that the government should prioritise vaccination for workers being tested with high frequency because they are the ones most at risk.

These workers need to be prioritised. Businesses and operators have gone to great lengths to encourage compliance and protect their workforces and the communities they serve, including proximity detectors for workers in distribution centres, workforce bubbles, sophisticated COVID safe plans, and on-site COVID testing facilities.

These businesses are offering to set up on-site vaccination facilities to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their workers (and ultimately communities) by reducing the risk of transmission in distribution centres and by long haul and last mile drivers.

The Commonwealth controls the supply of vaccines, and without access, these businesses cannot set up these facilities. Australia has a significant stockpile of AstraZeneca and ATAGI has changed their advice in line with the risk posed by COVID in the community.

Industry should have access to Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to set up on-site vaccination facilities run by contracted health providers, similar to how on-site testing facilities operate. The freight and supply chain has not faltered during the pandemic.

Every day, these workers continue to go into high-risk environments to ensure we all receive our essential goods and commodities.

It is now time for governments to acknowledge the risk these essential workers undertake by providing support via access to vaccinations and accessible testing on-site and off-site to ensure their safety and that of the community.

Brad Williams,

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