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Mining giant criticised for ‘inadequate’ isolation care packages

Rio Tinto supplies
Rio Tinto supplies

An industry advocacy is disappointed with a multinational resources company’s emergency supplies for infected mine workers.

Rio Tinto recently faced criticism over its isolation care package contents for employees who test positive to coronavirus (COVID-19) at Pilbara operations.

Multiple workers complained that contractor Sodexo only provides affected mine workers with a box of tea, coffee, milk, noodles, detergent and a copy of the so-called “in room strength program.” These supplies are intended to last for a week of mandatory confinement to mine accommodation.

‘Absolute joke’

The Australian Workers Union described the package contents as inadequate, ill-conceived and an “absolute joke”.

“Is this what a company that says it is serious about trying to change its culture thinks is suitable for Pilbara workers iso[lat]ing in the shoeboxes the company calls rooms?” WA branch secretary Brad Gandy said in a public statement.

“Now this multi-billion-dollar corporation comes out with this cheap and manifestly inadequate effort. Is this really what Rio thinks ‘better’ looks like?”

The Western Mine Workers’ Alliance (WMWA) separately forwarded concerns to Rio about the mental health of employees who have to isolate at mine sites. However, these complaints were allegedly ignored.

“WMWA has still to receive a response to an earlier letter to Rio Tinto, sent on behalf of its Pilbara members, voicing serious concerns for their health and wellbeing while they are on its sites – particularly the management of positive cases and close contacts,” WA secretary Greg Busson said.

Busson wants the business to introduce steps for infected workers to safely return home for isolation.

“Unlike in the eastern states, the WA resource sector has had plenty of time to properly plan for this situation,” he said.

AMSJ has sought comment from a Rio representative.

FIFO workers test positive

The remarks came after Rio confirmed two fly-in fly-out (FIFO) employees tested positive, and were put in isolation, at the company’s Perth Airport screening facility during January 2022.

The facility was established to perform COVID-19 tests on thousands of FIFO workers who transit through Perth, Busselton, Geraldton and Albany airports each day. Passengers must show proof of vaccination, declare whether they experienced COVID-19 symptoms, undergo a temperature check and rapid antigen test. After testing negative they receive a wristband and may proceed to the gate.

“Detection of these cases prior to departure for the Pilbara reinforces the importance and effectiveness of our three-layered screening process at Perth Airport, which includes rapid antigen testing,” a spokesperson said according to News Limited.

“This shows the systems and controls we have in place are working.”

Tax incentive

Meanwhile, the Federal Government confirmed self funded COVID-19 tests will be tax deductible for work-related purposes.

The permanent changes, which will be backdated to 1 July 2021, also encourage employers to test workers for COVID-19 through a new fringe benefit tax exemption.

“COVID-19 tests are an important tool for mitigating transmission risks and absences from the workplace,” Federal Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said in a public statement.

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  • BS like this is why people leave iso before they should. Inadequate food supplies & no comfort items sounds like cruel & unusual punishment. Noodles are not nutritious so I hope this was not the only food item available to those people confined to quarters.

AMSJ April 2022