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Australia: Subcontracting in high-risk sectors amid COVID-19 could worsen existing labour abuses, says ACCR

“Broken chains of responsibility: Victorian COVID-19 clusters reveal subcontracting risks”, 3 July 2020

Subcontracting often results in a lack of transparency and accountability for a workforce, with lead contractors eschewing responsibility for training, failing to provide adequate…[PPE], and even failing to provide minimum wages and conditions. Not only does [this] jeopardise the health and safety of workers, but it increases risks for the whole community, and has major implications for the…economy.

In…July, reports emerged of…subcontractor failings at the Victorian quarantine hotels linked to the current outbreak of COVID-19 in the state. Security guards allege…[t]hey were only provided 5 minutes of training in infection control…; were provided with a single glove and mask per shift [and]…[s]ubcontractors employ[ed] workers with no security experience and on lower wages. Workers, unions and government inquiries have highlighted…for years…how…security [is] one of the industries at highest risk of modern slavery. [The commercial cleaning sector shares many significant similarities with that of the security sector…, [making] the sector [also] one of the...sectors at highest risk for modern slavery. [Cleaning] also pose[s] significant risks for workplace transmission of COVID-19…].

The Cedar Meats COVID-19 cluster, reported in April, raises very similar issues. [O]ver half of the company's workforce were employed by a labour hire firm, [leaving]…many workers without basic leave entitlements, and…poor communication of critical health and safety information. Due to the nature of factory work, and the specific machinery in abattoirs, social distancing is difficult, and workers are at increased risk of infectious disease transmission…

Investors should engage companies regarding how they are ensuring that…companies have pandemic plans in place…, contractors and subcontractors are actively involved…and that there are clear lines of responsibility and reporting. Engaging with companies on the COVID-19 risks in their contracting supply chains will also provide investors with insights over the modern slavery risks in a company’s domestic supply chain.