BY NATASHA SCHAPOVA
Victorian frontline workers are demanding a pay rise or access to government benefits to compensate them for risking their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A petition to introduce “hazard pay” for frontline healthcare workers has more than 1400 signatures as of April 17.
Sarah Ameera, the petition's creator, works as a medical technician in a diagnostic clinic and has experienced being abused by a patient.
“I had informed [the patient] that we are not able to conduct the [COVID-19] test as part of the protocol from World Health Organisation, but the patient responded by being volatile and upset about not being able to get the testing done,” Ms Ameera said.
“Hazard pay” aims to compensate healthcare workers as they “become more vulnerable in this war against the virus”.
“[I] have heard stories of nurses being abused in public for wearing their uniforms, as a certain minority of people were afraid that they might pass on the virus to others,” Ms Ameera said.
Currently, the only compensation available in Victoria is free accommodation for hospital workers and paramedics who have tested positive to COVID-19, or have come into close contact with a suspected patient.
But JobSeeker requires the applicant to be unemployed and JobKeeper requires the applicant's employer to be experiencing a fall in annual turnover, neither typically applying to healthcare workers.
Pharmacist Benjamin Chow is continuing to work at Chemist Warehouse, while also offering his services at hospitals due to staff shortage.
“Healthcare workers in a hospital or community setting should have more Centrelink reimbursement than someone who has lost their job,” Mr Chow said.
“[They] are risking their lives on the front lines.”
In some cases, employees are left with no choice but to continue working.
“If I didn’t work, I’d lose my job,” said a Peninsula Health nurse who preferred not to be named.
“I personally know some young adults who live with parents and are getting money for no good reason.
“It’s my tax money going to someone whose family isn’t being financially burdened at all.”
She said while it is “all well and good” to receive thank you cards, it would be even better to be appreciated financially by the government.
Healthcare workers are not the only workers on the frontline demanding compensation .
Tali Aminov, an ACU student and employee at both Guess and McDonalds, is now applying for Centrelink due to Guess shutting down and McDonalds replacing older staff with teenage staff to reduce costs during school holidays.
“Even if I did get shifts, I’d want extra pay,” Ms Aminov said.
“I definitely think that employees should be paid more because that risk wasn’t present when they first started work.”
Woolworths employee Madison Darkin said she is not eligible for Centrelink and cannot afford to go without an income.
“I think it is unfair that we only get paid if we agree to work in an unsafe and exposed environment,” Ms Darkin said.
“Not losing my job is compensation enough as I am lucky to still have an income.
“However, it would definitely be welcomed if we were given compensation for the way we are being treated and the stress we are dealing with.”