Update: Terminal operator allegedly hid positive COVID-19 result of worker

Port Botany aerial view. Credit: IHS Markit

Hutchison Ports has refuted claims made by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) of allegedly withholding knowledge of a confirmed COVID-19 test result, exposing stevedores to the virus working in Port Botany, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. 

A statement issued today, 6 April, by container terminal operator Hutchison Ports categorically states that the COVID-19 positive cases were not workplace transmissions.

The port operator’s statement said it was informed of the positive test result of the worker on Friday 3 April, and it then consulted with the local health authorities and SafeWork NSW, the state’s workplace health and safety regulator, and immediately implemented recommended measures.

A contact tracing exercise was carried out with the port, collaborating with the NSW Health Department and the affected employee. After examining work attendance records and individual movements, 17 staff were categorised as possible “Close Contacts” with the infected person. Close Contact is described as having face-to-face interactions with a COVID-19 case within 2 m for more than 15 minutes, as defined by the European Centre for Disease Control.

The 17 workers have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days and remain on full pay during this period.

Hutchison Ports also said that on 5 April it received a report of a second worker who tested positive to COVID-19. NSW Health advised that the infection period commenced on 29 March 2020. According to the port, the employee has not been at the site during the infectious period and it was therefore not a workplace transmission.

The MUA have said in a statement that despite the confirmed cases of COVID-19, Hutchison Ports still refuses to share potential exposure and contact information with the workforce of the union. This could put more workers at risk of exposure and further transmission of the virus to the community.

“It’s like Hutchison are not part of this community crisis and global pandemic. They just want to work away like it’s business as usual. We think hiding facts about exposure to COVID-19 from workers and risking their transmission is a criminal act,” said Warren Smith assistant national secretary MUA.

The MUA is demanding an urgent meeting with NSW Health and the company, seeking full disclosure around all matters and allowing it to become involved and assist in future plans.

“We have worked with SafeWork NSW and they have not imposed any operating restrictions. We would only allow our workers on site if it was meeting all health requirements,” said John Willy, chief executive officer, Hutchison Port Authority (HPA). “At each step of the way HPA has communicated to staff the latest information within hours of being presented information and establishing the facts.

“The only thing the company has not revealed to staff – or the union – are the identities of infected employees for privacy reasons.”