Isolation change set for transport workers

·3-min read

Transport and logistics workers will be prioritised for less stringent isolation requirements from COVID-19, as the government looks to solve widespread supply-chain issues caused by increasing case numbers.

Following talks with industry groups on Tuesday and Wednesday, the federal government is set to expand the number of industries that would allow employees to return to work even if they are a close contact of a positive case.

A negative rapid antigen test result would still be required for workers to return after an exposure.

Similar arrangements have been flagged for food and grocery workers by the country's top medical advice group, but they may also apply in other sectors.

Experts estimate between 20 and 50 per cent of transport and logistics workers across the country have been out of action due to being COVID-positive or forced to isolate.

The government is weighing up expanding the definition of essential services to include road, rail and air transport, mental health, education and schooling services, energy supply, and clinics and laboratories.

The isolation changes for food and grocery workers have largely been welcomed by the sector, following recent meetings with the government.

Ahead of Thursday's national cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to urge state and territory leaders to allow truck drivers to cross borders more easily.

Some states and territories still require interstate arrivals to provide a negative rapid antigen test result in order to move into another jurisdiction.

As businesses struggle to find staff to fill crucial vacancies, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston flagged the possibility of unemployed people being brought into workforces that are facing shortages.

The government is also set to increase the amount of time international students can work to more than 40 hours a fortnight if they are employed in a sector affected by staff shortages.

Mr Morrison said the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country was having an obvious impact on supply networks and distribution chains.

"The challenge of COVID with escalating cases is keeping things moving. That's what riding this wave of COVID means," Mr Morrison said.

"With so many people getting COVID, that is clearly going to take more and more people out of the workforce."

The discussions with industry also brought up whether essential services would need to mandate a booster shot for staff.

Senator Ruston said the government was working towards "unshackling" employment opportunities for cohorts like temporary visa holders and those on unemployment benefits.

"Many older Australians, I am sure, will (also) be happy to do a few extra hours to help out at the moment," she said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Australians were already rolling up their sleeves to help cover shortages but they were being undermined by the government.

Mr Albanese said tracing, testing, quarantine and vaccination represented the "grand slam" of the Morrison government's failures, adding to the staff shortages as cases skyrocket.

He knew of professionals who had come out of retirement to help with the pandemic, he said.

"Working people have made incredible sacrifices and stepped up. They did their part of the bargain, the federal government has not done its part," Mr Albanese said.

The national cabinet is also expected to receive advice from Treasury about the economic benefits of school reopening as scheduled and remaining safely open.

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