The Transport Workers’ Union and Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation have written to National Cabinet to establish a covid-safe ‘Transport Roadmap’ involving rapid antigen testing, transport vaccination hubs and a national aviation plan to support the safe reopening of the country.
The roadmap – endorsed by leading epidemiologist and former World Health Organisation consultant Professor Adrian Esterman – would create uniform rules for borders, testing and vaccination requirements, developed through consultation with transport industry experts.
The aviation plan would retain skilled airport workers through AviationKeeper and ensure all airports have rapid pre-flight testing in place for passengers and crew to shield the beleaguered industry from future covid shocks and inspire greater confidence in travel as restrictions ease.
Vaccination access to accommodate transport workers’ shift patterns and support through paid leave provisions will address barriers to vaccination highlighted in recent TWU surveys of transport workers. Government-funded rapid antigen tests, called for by hundreds of NSW bus drivers through a two-hour work stoppage on Monday, would reduce the risk of workplace transmission and nationwide spread by catching covid positive cases early in road transport and airports.
Transport has been a critically overlooked industry throughout the pandemic, leading to mass covid outbreaks and subjecting transport workers to laborious and punishing testing regimes, border chaos and lack of access to truck stops. The Federal Government failed to prioritise vaccines for transport workers in road or aviation, or put in place uniform covid rules guided by industry.
In recent months, thousands of people nationwide have been forced into isolation after virus exposure linked to transport.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said that any plans to safely reopen fortress Australia cannot repeat the same mistakes that have devastated transport over the last 18 months.
“As State Premiers distance themselves from a net-zero covid goal, a new approach must be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. Transport workers have been crying out for a national plan to support their essential, high-risk industry and this is long overdue. National Cabinet must seize this opportunity to establish a covid-safe transport roadmap as a national priority to support the health of our communities and our economy.
“Vaccination goals are good, but they aren’t a silver bullet; they greatly reduce but don’t eliminate the spread. That’s why we need a robust covid defence strategy targeted at the specific risks posed by the nature of essential transport work which can easily carry the virus across the nation. Partnering vaccination access with rapid antigen testing can give workers and the community the greatest confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place as the country reopens,” he said.
ARTIO National Secretary Peter Anderson said now is the time for National Cabinet to act.
“Any talk about learning to live with COVID is hollow unless there’s a plan to shore up the health defences of such a critical industry as transport, which has the potential to shut down the country if the right measures are not in place. So much of our COVID response has had to be reactive, but we now have an opportunity to set a proactive course to build a stronger transport sector and more resilient economy,” he said.
Professor Adrian Esterman, a leading epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, believes that the proposed roadmap put forward by the TWU “is a major step forward, and if implemented, would greatly reduce the risk of interstate transmission of the virus.”
- Rapid antigen testing can produce results within 20 minutes. The test consists of a nasal swap which does not require laboratory analysis to produce a result.
- Around 20 different rapid antigen tests have been authorised for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to be administered by a healthcare worker. The AMA and Federal Health Minister have indicated self-administered home tests may be approved soon.
- The WA Government recently introduced rapid antigen testing at the border following truck drivers unknowingly entering the state while infected with covid.
- Hundreds of NSW bus drivers on Monday held a work stoppage calling for rapid antigen testing to protect workers and passengers.
- Rapid antigen testing is currently used in airports across the world – including London and terminals in the USA, Ireland and Turkey.
- Rapid PCR testing – also a nasal swab test – is already in use at Sydney Airport for international travellers, with results within one hour.
- The TWU has previously written to the Prime Minister calling for rapid testing and priority vaccine access for road and aviation transport workers. Click here for the letters.
Transport worker surveys
- In July and August, surveys revealed half of transport workers in aviation and road transport respectively had not yet received one dose of a vaccine
- The surveys highlighted barriers to vaccination including difficulty finding time around changing shift patterns, fear of losing pay to get vaccinated, and appointment shortages.
- Three-in-four aviation workers backed rapid pre-flight testing for passengers and crew.
- Only 2% of road transport workers were supported by their employer to get vaccinated, while less than 10% raised vaccine hesitancy concerns showing that lack of access and support has impeded vaccination rates, not resistance from workers.
- Around half of truck drivers had worked in covid hotspots and a quarter had queued for several hours to get tested. Many drivers reported losing work due to testing and border requirements, and some had to self-isolate in their trucks.