There are fears a coronavirus cluster at a Centrelink office in Melbourne’s north-east could explode after a private operator allegedly ignored social distancing in the workplace.
About 450 Centrelink call centre operators at Mill Park were stood down during the week after the Victoria’s Health Department determined they were at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Serco Asia Pacific has advised their employees to apply for the state government’s $1,500 hardship payment while in isolation, The Age reported.
There are six coronavirus infections connected to the workplace but there are concerns that figure could quickly grow.
The closure of the office comes as a Melbourne emergency doctor warns Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus infections will only get worse before it gets better.
There are fears a coronavirus cluster at a Centrelink office in Melbourne’s north-east could explode after a private operator allegedly ignored social distancing. Pictured: Australians are seen in a long queue outside a Centrelink office during the pandemic
A worker and the Australian Services Union (ASU) allege Serco were in March warned about the unhygienic work environment amid the coronavirus pandemic, where workers were required to hot-desk.
But the company claims they introduced safety measures including temperature checks, full sanitation protocols, the installation of plastic screens between desks and additional weekly deep cleans, as well as offering face masks.
Serco said the policies of the federal health and state authorities had been followed and implemented.
The call centre said they were notified of the first coronavirus case on July 11, before additional cases were identified between July 14 and July 19.
Serco said two coronavirus patients had come back to work following a holiday, while other infections in the office were connected to other community clusters.
Serco claim there has not been transmission between workers but the virus had been brought into the office through community transmission.
The Health Department shut the workplace indefinitely on Monday after deeming all workers to be close contacts.
Serco wrote to staff on Tuesday and said employees would be stood down without pay from Thursday ‘until further notice’. Those wishing to be paid could access their annual leave.
About 4,500 workers are employed by Serco in Victoria at call centres for Centrelink, the Australian Tax Office, the National Disability Insurance Authority and the Police Assistance Line.
About 450 Centrelink call centre operators at Mill Park were stood down during the week after the Victoria’s Health Department determined they were at risk of contracting COVID-19. Pictured: Australians line up outside a centrelink office during the coronavirus pandemic
The union is now considering legal action, secretary of the ASU’s Victorian private sector branch Matt Norrey said.
‘Under circumstances where the company has caused the problem in the first place, forcing workers to wear the consequences instead of the company absorbing the costs is morally bankrupt,’ he said.
A Serco spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia it has been an ‘extremely difficult time’ for the Mill Park team.
‘The Department of Health and Human Services Victoria (DHHS) has not identified that these infections have been from other staff,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Any statement or imputation that there has been staff to staff infections is incorrect and unnecessarily inflammatory under the circumstances.
‘This is obviously an extremely difficult time for our Mill Park team, and we are doing all we can to safeguard our employees’ health and safety following the directive given to us by DHHS.
‘Unfortunately we have had to formally stand down staff during this time but continue to work to have them back performing their essential government services as soon as possible.’
The closure of the office comes as a Melbourne emergency doctor warns Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus infections will only get worse before it gets better. Pictured: Medical staff are seen wearing masks in Melbourne
Stephen Parnis, an emergency doctor in Melbourne, on Friday warned more Australians are going to die from coronavirus and claimed the aged care sector lacks resources to deal with the pandemic.
‘I think it [Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak] will get worse before it gets better,’ he told A Current Affair.
‘Aged care facilities are really dangerous places if a virus gets in there it can ravage a community of the frail and elderly.
While elderly people are more at risk of COVID-19, Dr Parnis said all Australians should take the threat of the virus seriously.
‘This pandemic is dangerous for us all, but if you’re in your 80s or 90s, you have a 10 to 20 percent chance of dying from it,’ he said.
‘The virus does not respect age.
‘All age groups are represented in the patients that I see.’