Dozens of unions met on Monday (17 January) to consider a response to isolation requirements for workers in critical industries, which they fear will put employees at risk and accelerate the spread of the Omicron variant.
Letters were to be sent to employers across the country demanding free RATs for workers, better quality masks and better ventilation.
However, a business group says it is an unreasonable demand from unions to place the blame for RAT shortages and expense at the feet of businesses – especially small businesses – when they have been calling on the federal government to provide the tests since last year.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Andrew McKellar said the organisation had been calling since September last year for the national cabinet to make rapid antigen testing freely and widely available, particularly for small businesses.
“Rapid antigen testing is an important tool as part of a broader arsenal (including vaccines, PCR tests, working from home when possible and social distancing) in ensuring employees can safely return to the workplace,” Mr McKellar said.
“Rapid antigen testing regimes are appropriate to some businesses but not all. When many businesses are struggling to keep their doors open due to severe staff shortages, supply chain constraints and a sharp drop in consumer activity, now is not the appropriate time to saddle them with complex testing regulation and extra cost.
“Many businesses, particularly small and family businesses, do not have the funds, capacity or expert skills to implement a functional rapid testing regime.
“It’s not too late for national cabinet to change its mind and provide free and accessible rapid antigen testing for small businesses across all states so that they can detect cases earlier, limit the spread, and keep their workplaces open.”