Almost one in every two aviation workers have not been vaccinated according to a survey, highlighting the lack of a national plan to ensure frontline workers are protected and the risk of spread of COVID-19 is reduced.
The survey of nearly 800 cabin crew, pilots, cleaners, baggage handlers and ground workers across airlines and aviation companies shows only around one third of aviation workers have had both vaccine shots while 22% have had one shot. Recent outbreaks in Sydney and across Australia have been linked to flight crew and passengers, which have caused snap lockdowns and sent hundreds of workers and passengers into 14-day quarantine.
Many workers say they have not been vaccinated because of a lack of vaccine time slot availability and because it is difficult organising vaccination ahead of roster changes with the potential of losing work. A majority of those vaccinated organised the shot themselves (70%), with just 30% assisted by their employer.
Cabin crew and pilots at 78% overwhelmingly support rapid pre-flight tests of crew and passengers to help reduce risks. There is concern among aviation workers about contracting COVID-19, with 72% of cabin crew saying they do not feel safe flying into hotspot locations and 54% of cleaners and ground crew saying they do not feel safe servicing air craft from hotpots. Workers said they are concerned about spreading COVID to family members and losing pay if required to self-isolate.
Scott Morrison has not responded to two written requests from the TWU for aviation workers to be added to vaccine priority lists and for rapid pre-flight testing to be introduced at airports.
The Transport Workers’ Union and the Virgin Independent Pilots Association which conducted the survey said it should push the Federal Government to prioritise aviation workers for vaccination and ensure paid pandemic leave.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said: “This survey should ring alarm bells that there is a gaping hole in our fight to reduce the risk of COVID spread because only half of the people working in our airports, one of the most at-risk locations, have been vaccinated. It has left it entirely up to workers to get themselves vaccinated, with many reporting difficulty in setting up appointments. Workers are also concerned about setting a date for vaccination and then work becoming available, forcing them to forgo pay. This is the economic reality for aviation workers: after a year of being stood down on little money, with mounting bills it is difficult to take time out for vaccination and its possible side effects. We have called on the Federal Government to put in place a national plan on aviation when the crisis hit which would have looked at vaccination for aviation workers. This national plan never happened and today we are paying the price.”.
VIPA President John Lyons said: “We simply do not have nearly enough workers at our airports vaccinated and this means our entire community is at risk. Pilots and other workers are worried about their jobs with many still stood down from their roles. They want to get back up and flying but with the botched vaccine rollout and failure to prioritise aviation workers, lockdowns continue and the risk remains high. Workers are telling us they want more information, time off work to get vaccinated so that it won’t conflict with roster changes, and assurances that they will be paid their usual wage if they get ill or are forced to self-isolate. The Federal Government needs to step up to fix the mess it has created for aviation workers.”
Survey respondents said their jobs made it difficult to access vaccines.
One cabin crew respondent said: “I travelled 2 hours each way to get my shots – total four hours additional driving on top of a ten hour work day and waking up that morning at 2.30am. After getting the vaccine I got home at 11pm that day. Unbelievably exhausting.”
A cabin crew worker echoed this problem: “Most cabin crew I have spoken to who weren’t vaccinated is because it was too far from home to travel. Also I had to try and time my shots and bid for days off which was very stressful and annoying that I had to use my bids to get the day off and not guaranteed. The company should assist cabin crew with organised time off to get the shot.”
“The government should be facilitating employers of front-line workers, provision and access for staff vaccinations,” said a cabin crew worker.
Another called for “vaccine clinics at airports for border and transport workers. Rostering protocols amended to allow one to book in for a vaccine and not have to cancel the appointment due to a duty change.”
A pilot called for “time off for vaccine appointment that is booked blindly without a roster…. frontline crew would have to cancel from a rostered trip to attend a vaccination appointment made weeks ago.”
A ground crew worker said: “I’m a casual and only get a roster a few days in advance. It’s impossible to book a time to be vaccinated without risking losing a day’s pay.”