On Monday, 20 April, the New South Wales Government (NSW Government) extended its direction allowing police to issue $5000 on-the-spot fines for coughing or spitting on workers so that it now protects all workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The NSW Government had previously made a Ministerial Direction under the Public Health Act 2010 for the $5000 on-the-spot fine to protect health workers, paramedics, pharmacists, police or other public officials, but has now expanded this direction in an attempt to protect anyone at work or travelling to or from work. The expanded direction follows several recent incidents involving retail and transport workers.
“Unfortunately, there have now also been incidents in which retail staff and transport staff have also been subjected to this disgusting, dangerous behaviour, and it will not be tolerated,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said about the decision to extend the direction to all workers. “Every worker in this COVID-19 crisis is now an essential worker and will have the added protection they deserve, including those in retail stores and those critical to our public transport system. This $5000 on-the-spot fine sends a clear message that our community will do whatever it takes to protect these essential workers.”
The move has been welcomed by the retail and transport industries. The Secretary of the Tram and Bus Division of the NSW branch of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, David Babineau, said that too frequently people who are trying to do their jobs are being spat on. “Frankly, it’s disgusting in any circumstance but in the middle of the current health crisis it cannot be tolerated,” Babineau said. “Everyone has the right to go home safely from work and not wonder if they are bringing a potentially fatal disease home to their loved ones.”
Bernie Smith, NSW State Secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association — the union for retail, fast food and warehouse workers — said there needs to be zero tolerance for such behaviour. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen vile attacks on our frontline workers during the COVID-19 crisis,” Smith said, “with people purposefully spitting or coughing on people trying to do their job and we welcome and commend this move by the NSW Government.”
Anyone with concerns that individuals are not complying with public health orders is being advised to report their concerns to Crime Stoppers by calling 1800 333 000.
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