The shutdown of a Sydney construction site highlights the holes in NSW’s rushed health orders for registered workers, critics say

The shutdown of a Sydney construction site highlights the holes in NSW’s rushed health orders for registered workers, critics say
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  • A construction site in Sydney’s eastern suburbs was shut down when workers were unable to produce permits showing they were authorised to work outside their LGA.
  • It highlights the rushed rollout of a new permit system by the NSW government, which has been criticised for overlooking workers who travel to multiple destinations as part of their job.
  • Authorised workers from LGAs of concern who work outside their LGAs are required to carry a permit from Service NSW declaring that they are an authorised worker.
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A construction site in Sydney’s eastern suburbs was temporarily closed and fines were issued for breaching public health orders around registered workers, as NSW scrambles to monitor its vaccine registration scheme. 

Fines totalling $13,500 were issued for multiple breaches of the state’s public health orders, including a $10,000 fine for the business owner.

The workers were told by police they would not be allowed to work outside their local government areas (LGA) until they have met public health orders.

The incident is reflective of the rushed rollout of a new permit system to enable workers from hotspot LGAs to travel to work outside these LGAs, with criticisms of permits themselves, along with evidence the system may have led to a market for forgeries around proof of vaccination.

On Thursday, police questioned three maskless construction workers at a site in Waverley, who they discovered were from LGAs of concern. 

NSW Police said the workers were unable to produce valid permits to leave their LGA, with two not able to give evidence of a COVID-19 vaccine. There was also no QR code to sign into the site. 

“They all told police they were unaware of the requirements under the Public Health Orders,” NSW Police said.

The owner of the company told police he was unaware of his obligations to ensure employees were complying with public health orders.

Two employees were issued $1000 fines for failing to comply with health orders and a $500 fine for not wearing a face covering, with the third employee fined for not wearing a mask.

Travel permit for vaccinated workers

The site shutdown comes the same week as Service NSW launched a travel permit for authorised workers, which has faced criticism for failing to take into account jobs that require travel to more than one location. 

Authorised workers from the LGAs of concern are currently permitted to work if rapid antigen testing is in place at their worksite or if they have had their first vaccination dose by August 30. 

From August 28, authorised workers from the LGAs of concern who work outside their LGAs are required to carry a permit from Service NSW declaring that they are an authorised worker and cannot work from home.

However, the permit has met criticism from some who say that the requirement that workers list all the addresses they plan to visit is almost impossible for delivery workers and rideshare workers. 

A backdoor to certification

As vaccination schemes become mandatory, the market for fake vaccine certificates is growing in Sydney’s west, according to reporting from the ABC.

It comes as Service NSW slowly digitises records around vaccination, leading to short-term fixes that can easily be manipulated.

A growing market of forged vaccine certificates on social media appears to have emerged from Western Sydney LGAs that are currently under full lockdown, the report found. 

The ABC’s The World Today radio program interviewed Dr Christian Kunde, who witnessed Snapchat and WhatsApp groups with members predominantly living in Western Sydney.

Kunde said fake vaccination certificates in the form of PDFs expose how the rush by Service NSW to return workers in industries like construction to workplaces has opened the door to fake documents for those struggling to get vaccinated in time, the vaccine hesitant and anti-vaxxers. 

Dr Mohamad Assoum, an infectious disease epidemiologist told the ABC that the forged certificates he had seen highlighted how easily fake records could be created. 

“I was also a little taken aback by how simple these certificates were and how easy they were to forge in the first instance,” Assoum said.