The Transport Workers Union has appealed to an Australian tribunal to overturn the suspension of a Qantas worker who it claims rightly raised coronavirus safety concerns.
The action comes less than a day after the Sydney Morning Herald separately published details of a safety watchdog report that ruled the airline’s cleaning standards were so poor they could put staff and passengers at risk of the deadly disease. The TWU now says this investigation vindicates the worker.
However, Qantas strongly disputes the union’s version of events, claiming the worker instead incorrectly told employees it was not safe to work on aircraft arriving from China.
The TWU said the worker who complained was an elected health and safety representative who raised concerns about the risk of contracting the virus from flights arriving from China before being suspended.
The organisation claims colleagues were also threatened with disciplinary action.
The TWU has now appealed to the Fair Work Commission to overturn the company action and reinstate him.
TWU branch secretary Richard Olsen said, “What does it take for this corporate dictatorship to admit it was wrong, reinstate this worker and start implementing proper systems of work to keep passengers and workers safe?
“Workers are crying out for a consistent approach that is expert-driven on protective gear, training and information on the coronavirus. An airline like Qantas must be able to provide this.”
Qantas has strongly rebutted the claims, saying in a statement, “A TWU delegate was stood down pending an investigation after incorrectly telling employees it was not safe to work on aircraft arriving from China.
“This is against the advice of health authorities and despite additional safety equipment being provided to employees.”
The row over the individual gained extra resonance on Thursday when an SMH exclusive revealed a damning NSW safety watchdog report into the airline’s cleaning standards.
The recent inspection noted how cleaners were wiping tray tables without disinfectant and performing tasks such as handling soiled nappies and dirty tissues without wearing “protective equipment” for “the majority of these tasks”.
SafeWork NSW has issued Qantas with an “improvement notice” and ordered the airline to develop a new system specifically to deal with COVID-19.
Qantas strongly rebutted the findings, saying in a statement, “All of our Fleet Presentation teams are provided with personal protective equipment for cleaning the aircraft and for more hazardous items, we have additional equipment such as masks and safety suits.”
The company added it was considering appealing the notice.