The Transport Workers Union is calling on the Federal Government to urgently outline its instructions to airlines and airports regarding precautions and protections on the coronavirus for frontline airport workers.
The Union is also requesting airlines and airports to supply it with details of risk assessments and protective gear, training and advice they are giving airline cleaners, caterers, cabin crew, pilots, baggage handlers, ramp workers, security personnel and engineers.
Today the Queensland authorities confirmed a passenger diagnosed with the virus travelled on a Tigerair flight this week. TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said airport workers were on the frontline of the outbreak and needed urgent reassurances.
“The crew who were working on the Tigerair flight and the workers who serviced it, cleaned it, supplied catering, handled the baggage and worked on security are no doubt concerned following the health alert about the infected passenger. While the airline has been quick to assure workers and passengers, the ground handling agent Swissport which serviced the aircraft is known for its appalling record on worker health and safety issues. We need the Government to ensure that all airports and airlines have adequate policies in place and that all subcontractors which they engage follow these policies. This outbreak can be dealt with in a calm manner but workers need assurances that robust precaution and protection policies are being followed,” Kaine said.
“Workers want to know that they can be safe at work and also keep their families safe when they return from work. Vulnerable workers, such as pregnant women, older workers and those with respiratory problems, particularly need protections and assurances. Information must be clear and consistent and protective gear and equipment when necessary must be supplied,” he said.
The TWU has written to Qantas specifically asking for information about protections for workers directly flying into the affected regions in China.
The coronavirus outbreak exposes the fractured nature of the aviation industry. “It’s no longer simply a case of one airline contacting potentially affected workers when a case is confirmed, there are multiple layers of companies which are now engaged to carry out the work of putting a plane in the air and many of them have very poor standards on worked safety. This is what happens when an industry is allowed to engage in a race to the bottom with the effect of a risk to public health and safety,” Kaine added.
Contractor Swissport which carried out check-in and baggage handling for the Tigerair flight with the confirmed coronavirus case has been exposed over staff sleeping at airports. In August the Fair Work Commission shot down its current agreement saying it paid staff below the minimum award rates. At Sydney International Airport there were 134 injury incidents among a Swissport staff of 326. Workers have also spoken out about being forced back to work while still injured and managers accompanying injured staff into doctors’ surgeries during appointments.