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A scrubs top signed by nurses from Bega’s South East Regional Hospital fetched $5,000 at a bushfire fundraiser held in Merimbula this week to coincide with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) holding its quarterly executive meeting in the coastal NSW town to support fire ravaged communities.

Led by the South Coast Trades and Labour Council and ACTU, the bushfire relief appeal raised $25,000 for affected areas.

Part of the money will be used to provide at least one apprenticeship within the Merimbula community.

The fundraiser included first-hand accounts from bushfire-affected residents, including local Diane Lang, a registered nurse who works at the South East Regional Hospital, who recalled being on nightshift on New Year’s Eve as a firestorm began snaking its way up the coast and threatening communities.

ANMF Acting Federal Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp described the fundraiser, attended by almost 100 people, as a collective show of solidarity and support to communities impacted by the bushfire crisis.

“It was really uplifting to visit Merimbula as a collective and show support to the community,” Ms Sharp said.

“There was a really generous spirit within the room and appreciation of the impact the bushfire crisis has had on workers and communities and the need to drive efforts to provide ongoing assistance.”

Ms Sharp said Diane Lang’s powerful story shone a light on the lasting impact of the bushfires.

“She also talked about other nurses at the Bega Hospital. Whilst they went back to business as usual, many are still battling with the consequences of the fires and lack of coordinated federal government response.”

Positively, Ms Sharp said members of the ACTU executive had the privilege of spending some time in the town, engaging with locals and supporting businesses affected by the recent downturn.

“I spoke to at least two traders and they had to actually evacuate four times. Each time they packed up their car and drove off not knowing whether they were going to come back to their homes. They were really grateful the fires didn’t hit Merimbula but are still traumatised by what happened and the devastation in surrounding communities.”

The ACTU executive met to discuss a wide range of pressing issues, including the coronavirus outbreak, yesterday dubbed a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

On Wednesday, the executive resolved to call on the federal government to legislate two weeks paid leave for all workers, including permanent, casual or part-time, forced to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19.

Responding yesterday, the government announced casual workers forced to self-isolate would now qualify for a Newstart allowance payment.

Ms Sharp said the move wasn’t good enough and would disadvantage the casual workforce.

“It’s totally inadequate and it just won’t suffice,” she said.

“It will take about a week to apply to the Centrelink system. It will also take up to 12 weeks for the sickness payment to be paid and by that stage people are already living day to day and would have been economically disadvantaged.

“Given that we will likely be calling on the casual workforce, particularly nurses, to surge in certain places as the coronavirus unfolds, they need to know that this government’s going to look after them.”