The NSW workplace safety authority has written to Qantas to confirm it’s investigating the suspension of a worker who raised concerns about staff being exposed to coronavirus.
SafeWork NSW has the power to fine the carrier up to $500,000 if it’s found guilty.
Qantas has previously strongly rebutted the claims, insisting that the worker actually told colleagues it was not safe to work on aircraft arriving from China, spreading unnecessary alarm. However, The Transport Workers Union, which is representing the staff member, insists the person was a health and safety representative who raised legitimate concerns.
Under section 104 of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act, an employer cannot discriminate against a worker for raising concerns or carrying out their role as a health and safety rep.
TWU NSW branch secretary Richard Olsen said, “The TWU believes there is ample evidence to prove that Qantas engaged in discriminatory and prohibited behaviour.
“It is incomprehensible to the TWU that the Sydney worker was stood down due to his concerns for his co-workers. Now with the company-wide stand down, Qantas has put their own internal investigation on hold, leaving the worker uncertain of his future, and we are watching the company scramble to manage their own actions.
“Qantas’s behaviour from the start of this pandemic has been outrageous. It has refused to listen to workers’ legitimate concerns and instead shut them down.
“This has had a massive impact on the entire workforce during a very stressful time as many people have been afraid to raise concerns. This is not the way to conduct a safe and efficient airline.”
Qantas has confirmed it will co-operate with the investigation.
The revelation is the latest in a string of potential safety issues affecting Qantas recently.
Most notably, on 5 March, SafeWork NSW said that Qantas’ cleaning standards are so poor they could put passengers and staff at risk of catching COVID-19.
An inspection note obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald 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 issued Qantas with an “improvement notice” and ordered the airline to develop a new system specifically to deal with COVID-19.
On Wednesday, five more Qantas baggage handlers working in Adelaide Airport were diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday, on top of the six confirmed cases the day before.