The Transport Workers’ Union is warning the Federal Government against any rescue plan for scandal-ridden Swissport without strict conditions on labour standards and an equity stake in the company.
Swissport, formerly Aerocare which is owned by Chinese conglomerate HNA and carries out ground operations such as baggage and catering for airlines, is reported to be considering sacking 80% of its staff because of a fall-off in work at Virgin.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said workers had for years suffered at Swissport because of below award wages, a guarantee of no more than 60 hours a month and gruelling split shifts, with some workers even forced to sleep at the airport.
He called for a national plan on aviation before a rescue bid is considered to ensure both Virgin and Qantas remain viable and have work for companies like Swissport.
“There is absolutely no way the Federal Government should use taxpayers’ money to prop up Swissport without significant conditions attached. This is a company that has ripped workers in Australia off for years to the tune of millions of dollars and forced them into the most degrading working conditions. The Government must take a stake in Swissport and supervise strict lifting of labour standards. It must clear out its senior management team which has for years devised and overseen the exploitation of workers in Australia. The public were shocked to see footage of low paid Swissport workers forced to sleep behind baggage carousels while on split shifts, during which they stay at work for 15 hours and more but only get paid for six hours. Since then Swissport has lost major cases at the Federal Court and the Fair Work Commission as it tried repeatedly to ram through agreements to allow them to continue ripping workers off,” Kaine said.
“The Federal Government must work out a national plan on aviation, which takes into account the fragmented landscape including the airlines and companies like Swissport which service them. All aviation companies are in crisis right now and the Government must devise a strategy for the thousands of workers who depend on them. After this crisis we need a new type of aviation industry where standards are lifted and where good jobs and a reliable service for the travelling public are prioritised,” Kaine added.
Issues with Swissport include:
· Last year the Fair Work Commission terminated the Swissport enterprise agreement which had been in place since 2012, saying its rates were below the award;
· In January 2019 the Federal Court rejected a bid by Swissport to have its split shifts recognised under law;
· In 2017 the Fair Work Commission rejected Swissport’s enterprise agreement, because its rates were below the award and because it allowed for split shifts. Appeals by the company were also rejected;
· Swissport has admitted in a memo to staff that it pays them below the award at Christmas and Easter;
· At Sydney International Airport over a one-year period there were 134 injury incidents among a Swissport staff of 326;
· Security incidents, including passengers at Perth airport allowed airside to collect their baggage after a baggage handler was left alone to unload an entire aircraft;
· Staff being forced back to work while still injured;
· Managers accompanying injured staff into doctors’ surgeries during appointments;
· Broken and faulty equipment in use around aircraft and passengers.