February 6, 2019
The Transport Workers’ Union is calling on Qantas to immediately reinstate a worker who is a trained health and safety representative after the airline stood him down for giving advice to colleagues about their rights regarding the coronavirus.
The worker, who was elected representative by his co-workers, was stood down on Sunday after informing workers of their rights under health and safety laws. Broadcaster Alan Jones raised the matter of threats to airport workers with Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning who said: “that is a matter I am happy to take up with Qantas about how they are managing those issues”.
TWU NSW Branch Secretary Richard Olsen said: “We are very concerned that airport workers on the frontline of this virus outbreak are being threatened, intimidated and stood down from their jobs rather than being supported and given all the protections they need. We call on Qantas to immediately reinstate the worker who has been stood down and to withdraw letters of intimidation to people who expressed concerns about working on flights from China. This is not a time for using bullying workplace tactics. Cabin crew, airlines cleaners, caterers, baggage and ramp workers and airport security personnel at the frontline have the right to go to work, be safe and return to their families afterwards without concerns that they are spreading a deadly virus.”
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said: “We are pleased that the Prime Minister has said he will take the matter up with Qantas, given that this is a public health issue. We would like to see this issue resolved immediately so that workers can continue to do their jobs but are able to raise concerns when they arise.”
The TWU is concerned about workers forced to board the aircraft which evacuated people from Wuhan to strip it of catering and linen before it was sent for deep-cleaning with just masks and gloves but no eye protection or training on risk management.
The Union has written to airports, airlines and aviation companies asking for information on how workers are being protected. There are particular concerns about ground handling company Swissport which serviced the Tigerair flight last week carrying four confirmed cases of the virus and which has refused to answer questions the TWU asked regarding how workers who were potentially exposed have been supported.
Airport workers are reporting a haphazard approach to protections. While gloves, masks and hand sanitisers are being provided by some companies this is not happening across the board. Protections are being provided for workers servicing flights from China, protections are not always being provided during other flights. This is despite the fact that four cases were detected after the domestic Tigerair flight from Melbourne to Gold Coast last week. The TWU last week called for all flights from China to be suspended.
“The worst thing for airport workers is not having the confidence that their workplace is safe because of the haphazard approach to protections and precautions that they are seeing. We are calling on the Government to show leadership and instruct all airports and aviation companies to have in place consistent policies throughout their supply chains and to ensure that workers can raise concerns without fear of losing their jobs. This will help alleviate worker concerns,” Kaine said.