Public Health before Profits
Public Health before Profits
A response by workers to the companies demanding economic reopening
We are the workers from the 80 companies that signed an open letter calling on state and federal governments to abandon the current lock down. Opening up while the number of daily COVID-19 cases are in the thousands and continue to grow exponentially would see the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths balloon across Australia.
The consequences of reopening the economy while the virus is still circulating at such high numbers would be dire. Statements by the Nurses and Midwives Association and various health professionals in NSW are concerned that the hospital system, already stretched and understaffed, would not be able to cope with the influx of cases resulting from opening up.
The letter argues that with high vaccination rates lockdowns will become unnecessary. While ensuring the population is vaccinated should be a key priority in fighting the spread of COVID-19, it cannot be a substitute for other health measures. Modelling by researchers from three major universities predicts that opening up with 80% of the adult population fully vaccinated would cause 25,000 deaths.
The signatories of the letter claim to be doing whatever they can to provide a safe environment for their customers and the community and express their concern for our mental health. Yet most transmission is occurring in workplaces and homes when essential workers bring the virus home to their families. Far more could be done to limit the spread of COVID-19 in essential workplaces. Measure should be introduced across the board such as installing HEPA filters in tea rooms, staggering break times or having outdoor break areas, organising rosters into teams to limit the number of workers coming into contact with one another, limiting the number of customers allowed in stores, and prioritising click and collect and free delivery so the only people entering the shop are those who really need it. If they cared so much about their workers’ and customers’ mental and physical wellbeing, they would be doing everything they can to reduce transmission in the workplace.
Many of the companies on this list experienced a growth in revenue this year. For example, Coles Group saw a 3.1% growth in sales revenue to $38.6 bn, Woolworths a 5.7% growth in sales to $67.3b, and Wesfarmers a 16.2% increase in net profits after tax. Profits should have been put towards creating COVID safe work environments, but instead CEOs are demanding that the economy open up so they can continue to make profits at the expense of our health.
These businesses are not willing to make changes to their business model to make workplaces safer because it would limit their ability to make profits. And state and federal governments have refused to tighten the current lockdowns by ordering such measures to be put in place. The NSW government has put business interests first every step of the way, not locking down hard enough or early enough at the start of the outbreak, putting thousands of people at risk of catching this deadly virus.
Now they want us to accept that we have to “learn to live with the virus” because lockdown is hard for business. This is a slap in the face to frontline and essential workers, forced to risk their health and that of their families everyday, to all the people who have endured strict lockdown rules and financial hardship for over two months. It sends the message that it was all for nothing, that business profits should come before public health.
We, the undersigned, demand the government:
- Tighten health restrictions by implementing genuine safety measures in essential businesses to limit the spread of COVID-19.
- Close all non-essential business, that is not essential for life or health
- Provide financial assistance at least on par with Jobkeeper levels to all non-essential workers so they can afford to stay home and social distance effectively
- Adopt a strategy of elimination with regards to COVID-19 and maintain all public health regulations such as lock downs necessary to achieve this aim