Coronavirus Update


Wednesday 15 April 2020

Good afternoon all,

Please find the following information providing staff with an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
Mercy Connect has a responsibility for providing staff with the necessary PPE to work safely. In response to COVID-19, the purchase and distribution of PPE is managed and monitored by Jeanie Keeton and Di Poynton to ensure that in the event of suspected, or actual, COVID-19 infection, our staff and participants are protected so far is as reasonably practicable. As such, all provided PPE, such as masks, glasses and gowns must only be used in strict accordance with the relevant guidelines.

It has been noted that a significant number of masks are unable to be located since being distributed to certain Mercy Connect homes and facilities. Staff are reminded that that PPE provided by Mercy Connect is only for work purposes, and is not intended for private (non-work related) use by staff. Further, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advises us that the wearing of masks within the community by healthy (non-infected) people is not currently supported by clinical / medical research. Please be aware that any substantiated instances of staff removing Mercy Connect provided PPE for private use may be deemed as theft which could result in disciplinary action.

JobKeeper Payments:
Following the recent Mercy Connect staff announcement (7 April – ‘Interim Rostering Changes – Albury’) the Jobseeker legislation since been passed by Parliament. However, we still cannot confirm at this stage whether Mercy Connect will be eligible for this payment and will advise in due course.

Please find the key legislative changes made by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) as summarised below:

1. JobKeeper enabling stand down

  • Under the new legislation, employers can stand down employees who are eligible for JobKeeper payments (referred to as a “JobKeeper enabling stand down”) if the employee cannot be usefully employed for their normal days or hours during the JobKeeper enabling stand down period due to:
    – changes to business attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic;
    – or government initiatives to slow COVID-19 transmission.
    This includes a partial stand down.
  • Employers must give employees at least 3 days’ written notice of an intention to place them on a JobKeeper enabling stand down (or lesser period by agreement).
  • During the JobKeeper enabling stand down (including any partial stand down), the employee must be paid at least the amount of the JobKeeper payment (refer to point 5 below). An employee’s hourly rate cannot be reduced as a result of a JobKeeper enabling stand down.
  • If an employee is on paid or unpaid leave authorised by employer (e.g. annual leave) or otherwise authorised to be absent (e.g. public holiday), they are not considered to be on a JobKeeper enabling stand down for that period.
  • A period of JobKeeper enabling stand down counts as service, and entitlements to leave, redundancy pay, and payment in lieu of notice of termination will continue to accrue and be calculated as if the stand down had not occurred.
  • Employees can also request that they be allowed to engage in secondary employment, training or professional development during a JobKeeper enabling stand down. An employer cannot unreasonably refuse such a request.

2. Changes to duties and location of work

  • Employers can direct employees to perform any duties within their skill and competency, as long as the duties are safe, the employee is licensed and qualified to perform the duties, and the duties are reasonably within the scope of the employer’s business operations.
  • Employers can also direct employees to perform duties at a place (including the employee’s home) that is different from the employee’s normal workplace if the place is suitable for the duties and is safe. If the place is not the employee’s home, the direction must not require the employee to travel a distance this is unreasonable in all the circumstances.
  • An employee cannot unreasonably refuse a direction by their employer to perform other duties or work from a different location.

3. Changes to days of work

  • Employers and their employees may now agree to employees performing work on different days or times than their ordinary days or times provided it is safe, and the employee’s ordinary hours of work are not reduced (this can however be done by way of JobKeeper enabling stand down). Employees cannot unreasonably refuse a request by their employer to work on different days.

4. Annual Leave

  • Employers can now request an employee to take paid annual leave and / or take annual leave at half pay, provided that the leave arrangement would not result in the employee’s leave balance falling below 2 weeks (unless otherwise agreed). Employees cannot unreasonably refuse such a request.

5. JobKeeper payments

  • For employees who are entitled to JobKeeper payments, their employer must pay them each fortnight the greater of:
    – the amount of the JobKeeper payment ($1500, before tax); or
    – the amounts payable to the employee in relation to the performance of any work during the fortnight.
    The above will also apply if the employee is on a JobKeeper enabling stand down. A breach of this obligation carries civil remedies.
  • At this stage, it is unclear for employees who are stood down or receiving less than the JobKeeper payment for time worked whether JobKeeper payments will be made as a reimbursement (i.e. whether the employer needs to pay the amount now and be reimbursed later) or whether the employer can wait until they receive the JobKeeper payment from the ATO and them remit this to the employee.

6. How long do these arrangement apply?

  • Any JobKeeper enabling directions issued by an employer continue to apply until:
    – it is withdrawn or revoked by the employer;
    – it is replaced by a new JobKeeper enabling direction by the employer; or
    – at the start of 28 September 2020.

Mercy Connect Cook Books:
Following an excellent suggestion received from Mardi Ross and Adam Straughair, we have scanned, collated and professionally printed off 20 copies of the Mercy Connect Cook Book as support to our staff who are preparing participant meals during this period of isolation. These will be distributed to our Mercy Connect houses over the coming days.

Pandemic Risk Management:
Mercy Connect continues to proactively respond to this once-in-a-generation pandemic. There remains a strong commitment from our Board, and Executive / Management Teams for Mercy Connect to implement all government-mandated health precautions, and recommended infection control practices, to ensure work environments remain safe for our staff and participants.

Whilst there is currently a low number of reported COVID-19 cases within the Albury, Orange and Narrabri regions, we cannot let our guard down over the course of the coming weeks and months. We appreciate everyone’s continued vigilance and compliance with our new work practices / rosters in order to prevent an outbreak of infection within our staff and / or participant groups.

Staff are advised that if any participant exhibits any signs of respiratory difficulties they need to contact the COVID-19 Hotline:

  • Albury-Wodonga – 6058 4444.
  • Orange and Narrabri – 1800 675 398.

It is important to note that since late-February, Mercy Connect has been progressively planning, responding and monitoring this unprecedented health crisis. Please find a brief summary of key actions / responses undertaken over the past months, as regularly communicated out to staff via email, social media, and the Mercy Connect App.

Actions / Response

  • Pandemic and Infection Control Working Group Meetings (28/2; 6, 13, 20, 27/3; 9/4).
  • Updated Mercy Connect Infection Control Policy and Procedures.
  • Instituted social distancing, and restrictions on public gatherings, in line with recommended practices published by the Australian Government Department of Health.
  • Registered Mercy Connect with major supermarkets to enable priority shopping for our participants.
  • Increased supplies of PPE, including gloves, face masks, hand sanitiser.
  • Surface cleans have been completed on all properties and forensic cleans undertaken on a number of high risk properties.
  • Increased hand washing protocols present within homes and work areas, including extra signage and hand sanitiser units.
  • Supporting participants / group homes with their shopping needs and the purchasing of extra items.
  • Transitioned Mercy Connect day program activities away from ‘centre based’ to ‘at home’ programs; helping to reduce avoidable contact by reducing group size; effective from 18 March.
  • Mandating that any Mercy Connect staff who have recently returned from an overseas visit, must self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Enforcing self-isolation of any Mercy Connect staff who exhibit or are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms.
  • Mandated that staff wear PPE, where required, for at-risk participants and / or locations.
  • Established contact with Albury-Wodonga Health for advice on how to manage any potential staff / participant infections.
  • Registered Mercy Connect to receive free PPE supplies from National Stockpile.
  • Introduced interim rostering changes to: reduce the risk of infection by limiting the number of location staff work across; preserve contracted hours of permanent staff; and provide as much certainty as possible for our casual staff.
  • Reserved Catherine’s Corner and the Learning Centre for use if isolation of participants is required at any time.
  • Received regular HR advice regarding staff ‘duty of care’ considerations and entitlements.
  • Increased scope of video conferencing facilities for internal and external meetings, reducing the needs for face-to-face gatherings.
  • Supported working from home options for staff, where appropiate and practical.
  • Closed Albury (St John’s / Thurgoona) and Orange (Illamatta Way) offices to the public; effective 25 March.
  • Advised all staff over the age of 70 years old / have a medical condition / immunodeficiency which puts them at a greater risk of respiratory infection, to consider going into self-isolation.
  • Additional COVID-19 safety materials (poster / booklet) have been developed for both staff and participants awareness.
  • Distributed internal communications to all Mercy Connect Staff on matters relating to COVID-19 (2, 17, 18, 20, 24, 30/3; 3, 6, 7, 9/4).
  • Updated internal Crisis / Disaster Management Plan Framework.
  • Requested that, unless there are religious or cultural reasons, staff trim facial hair so that faces masks effectively cover their faces.
  • Drafted CEO-signed letter to support staff travelling to and from their place of work, as an essential worker.

Interim Rostering Changes:
Newly drafted rosters have been released over the past week, and a period of three weeks consultation with those affected has already commenced. As previously noted, the main aim of these interim rosters is to ensure the safety of our participants and staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I appreciate everyone’s continued support and patience as we continue to modify our rostering approach, and work practices, during this time.

Together we grow.

Trent Dean
Chief Executive Officer