February 3, 2020

Government, airports and airlines fail to protect workers amid coronavirus outbreak

Aviation workers on the frontline of the coronavirus threat at our airports are being failed.

  • The Federal Government has ignored worker calls to suspend incoming flights from China to protect the public from an outbreak.
  • Qantas has threatened workers concerned about servicing aircraft from China with disciplinary action and has even stood down a health and safety representative for informing workers of their rights.
  • The response from airports, airlines and aviation contractors has been haphazard, with some failing to provide workers with protective equipment such as hand sanitiser.
  • Ground handling company Swissport, which has previously been exposed for workers sleeping at airports due to low pay and split shifts, has refused to tell the TWU how it is supporting workers who serviced the TigerAir flight with three confirmed cases.

Advice for workers:

The Australian Government Department of Health has provided advice for the airline industry.

Coronavirus advice for workers


Workplace Health and Safety

Should you be exposed to the virus and need to self-isolate, you should be paid for your time. Contact your delegate or official if you have any issues arising from this.

Ceasing unsafe work

All workers have the right to cease unsafe work. Before ceasing unsafe work we strongly recommend speaking to your HSR, or if they’re unavailable your delegate or official.

To cease unsafe work, you must be able to give a reason for elevated concern. In terms of the coronavirus outbreak this could include but is not limited to:

  • seeing a passenger or co-worker showing symptoms
  • being informed of a suspected case on a flight or in your workplace
  • the employer failing to provide personal protective equipment
  • the employer failing to provide procedures to mitigate risk or information on what to do if you suspect someone has the virus
  • awaiting medical clearance or personal protective equipment before working on a flight coming from China
  • a known medical condition that puts you at higher risk, such as respiratory problems, weakened immune system or pregnancy

When ceasing work, you must make the employer aware of the issue promptly, and you must make yourself available for alternate duties.

WHS law prevents an employer from discriminating against or disciplining a worker for raising a safety concern. The TWU will always fight to protect and defend members who stand up for safety. No issue is more important than our safety on the job.

If you have further questions, contact your HSR, TWU delegate, official or member services.


TWU response

The TWU has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, airports and airlines and is holding regular talks with major airlines and airport contractors about what they’re doing to protect workers. You can find the letters and responses at the bottom of this page.

Qantas intimidates workers, threatens jobs

In an appalling response to a global health emergency, Qantas has threatened, intimidated and stood down workers rather than supporting them or providing all the protections they need.

A worker, who was a trained health and safety representative, was stood down for giving advice to colleagues about their rights regarding the coronavirus. Prior to this, Qantas sent disciplinary letters to workers who ceased work on a flight from China threatening their jobs if they did so again.

Following these intimidation tactics, workers had to service the plane that had transported Australians from the epicentre of the virus and had not yet been cleaned. Workers were required to strip the plane of catering and linen without any protective eye gear or training on risk management.

The TWU is demanding Qantas immediately reinstates the worker, withdraws the disciplinary letters and supports its workers with equipment and advice.

Click PLAY below to hear TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine on 2GB Alan Jones Breakfast Show – “Qantas employee stood down” (6 Feb 2020)

Airport workers call to suspend flights from China

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine has voiced the concerns of aviation workers and led the charge calling for flights to be suspended.

“Airport workers are on the frontline of this. When it’s clear that the virus is still spreading like wildfire throughout the world, the best way to transmit it is to put people on a plane. This is just an incubator for problems. Until and unless we have certainty that our airport workers and the public will be protected from the deadly coronavirus, we must cut off flights from the source.”

Click PLAY below to hear Michael Kaine on the 2GB Alan Jones Breakfast Show – “Calls to cancel all flights from China” (3 Feb 2020)


TWU letters to PM and Qantas:

TWU letter to PM re coronavirus (1 Feb 2020)

TWU letter to Qantas re coronavirus (1 Feb 2020)


Airline/ airport responses to TWU:

Qantas letter to TWU re coronavirus (2 Feb 2020)

North Queensland Airports letter to TWU re coronavirus (5 Feb 2020)

Adelaide Airport letter to TWU re coronavirus (5 Feb 2020)

Swissport letter to TWU re coronavirus (31 Jan 2020)

Virgin Australia Group letter to TWU re coronavirus (31 Jan 2020)

Brisbane Airport letter to TWU re coronavirus (6 Feb 2020)

Perth Airport letter to TWU re coronavirus (7 Feb 2020)

Sydney Airport letter to TWU re coronavirus (11 Feb 2020)




TWU Media Release: TWU Welcomes Qantas Suspension of Direct Flights to China; Calls on Fed Govt to Suspend All China Flights (1 Feb 2020)

TWU Media Release: Transport Workers to Call for Suspension of All Flights from China (31 Jan 2020)

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