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Victorian gym owners plan legal ‘class action’ to reopen gyms

Victorian gym owners plan legal ‘class action’ to reopen gyms
September 3, 2020

With fitness industry stakeholders lobbying for exercise facilities to reopen as and when the Victorian Government eases its current Stage 4 Coronavirus restrictions, Fitness Australia has today advised that a number of independent gym owners are intending to pursue a class action lawsuit.

Following extensive lobbying by industry representatives to reopen gyms, this week’s announcement by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews that he would reveal how lockdown measures will be eased as of this Sunday has prompted hope among facility owners and operators that they might be allowed to reopen under loosened Stage 3 restrictions.

In a Fitness Australia webinar staged today, the class action against facility was discussed by gym owners, who considered what such action might cost, obstacles it would face and its likelihood of success.

Claiming that the ongoing closure of gyms is “a public health disaster waiting to happen”, the more than 20 owners, comprising 50 sites, 500 staff and over one million members have banded together and already written to Victorian Government Cabinet Members and local MPs to support the push to reopen, and outline their COVIDSafe reopening plans.

Fitness Australia
The webinar followed Fitness Australia having put its support behind a COVIDSafe Plan for Reopening Gyms Legislative Council E-Petition, which has already attracted more than 9,000 signatures ahead of its closing date of 10th September 2020, to advocate for the reclassification of gyms due to the vital role they play in managing mental health and wellbeing of the community.

Sharing the organisation’s view that gyms, health clubs, fitness centres and studios such as yoga, Pilates and barre should be an essential service, Fitness Australia Chief Executive, Barrie Elvish advised on Tuesday “the classification of health and fitness facilities needs urgent review and we are calling on the Victorian Government to make this change ahead of their road map announcement later this week. The fitness industry plays a vital role and we must be allowed to operate in the same way as other essential health services such as osteopathy, physiotherapy, dietetics and mental health services.

“For many people in our community, especially those managing a range of physical and mental health issues, going to the gym, completing regular sessions with a personal trainer or participating in a live or virtual class are seen as an essential support service. Yet under the current classification, the industry is restricted from providing this vital support service.”

Emphasising that gyms can be a safe environment when a robust COVIDSafe Plan, such as the Fitness Australia COVID Operational Guide for the fitness industry, was in place and enforced, Elvish added “Fitness Australia has worked extensively with the industry and health officials across Australia to develop a COVIDSafe Plan for the reopening of gyms. We successfully implemented this with the Queensland Government, which allowed people to safely return to the gym earlier than originally planned.

“We are urging the Victorian Government to work with Fitness Australia to promote the overall health and safety of the community, not just when it comes to protecting them during a pandemic, by developing a COVIDSafe Plan that will allow the industry to reopen in Stage 3.”

Elvish went on to say that “fitness centres are low risk when it comes to COVID-19 and the industry is willing to do whatever it takes to provide a safety and hygienic environment for members and employees.”

Independent Gym Owners
Earlier in the week (see Independent gym owners urge Victorian Government to allow gyms to re-open when Stage 4 restrictions conclude), the group of independent gym operators released a statement highlighting  how the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of Victorians revolves around accessing gyms and health facilities, which are some of the cleanest and most sanitary public environments.

One of the group, Ballarat gym owner Mel Tempest explained “we are doing this not just for our consumers but our peers as well” pointing to mainstream media’s interest in the issue.

Another member of the group, Tim Schleiger, owner of Train 24/7 gyms, has been quoted as stating “with people working from home, we no longer have peak times like we used to have.

"The flow of people is more consistent throughout the day, making it so much easier to keep people socially distanced.”

Chance of Success
Despite the advocacy, the likelihood that gyms will be included in Stage 3 easing is uncertain.

On Tuesday, Victorian Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, Martin Pakula met with representatives of a range of recreation and sport bodies, with no fitness industry stakeholders invited or present.

In addition, previous easing measures, would suggest that gyms are more likely to be allowed to open at Stage 2 – a situation that would have serious implications for not only operators but the physical and mental wellbeing of Victorians.

Here, it is worth recalling that when Victoria’s first round of Coronavirus lockdowns were eased, gyms were made to stay closed longer than cafes and restaurants.

Reopening Petitions
Click here to view the the COVID-SAFE Plan for Reopening Gyms Legislative Council E-Petition.

Click here to view the Independent Gym Owners petition to Prioritise Victorian's Mental Wellbeing After Lockdown petition.

Click here to view the Get Victoria's trainers and gyms back to work petition.

Click here to view the Reopen gyms/fitness centres petition.

Images: Hygiene measures undertaken at Fitness First facilities (top) and Barrie Elvish (middle).

About the author

Karen Sweaney

Editor, Australasian Leisure Management

Artist, geoscientist and specialist writer on the leisure industry, Karen Sweaney is Editor of Australasian Leisure Management. Based in Sydney, Australia, her specific areas of interest include the arts, entertainment, the environment, fitness, tourism and wellness.

She has degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Sydney and Geological Oceanography from UNSW.

Read more from this author

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