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Flights will be axed if COVID aid not extended, say ground handlers

written by Adam Thorn | August 9, 2021

dnata are one of the companies that will miss out on COVID disaster payments.

The industry association representing ground handling has warned that “hundreds” of flights this summer could be axed because its members are ineligible for the government’s new COVID relief payments.

Currently, only workers in locked-down areas receive financial aid, and not those based in other states that might lose hours due to border closures.

Last week, the government announced a $750 a week payment for those outside hotspots to plug the gap, but that only applies to airlines, and not third-party providers such as ground handlers.

Qantas last year outsourced its remaining ground-handling operations, meaning some airports are now entirely staffed by those that could miss out, effectively shutting down their operation to passengers.

The chair of the Australian Aviation Grand Handlers Industry Alliance (AAGHIA), Glenn Rutherford, said 9,800 people are being denied financial support from the government for doing the same work, at the same airport, as those working for airlines.

“If that protection is not extended to all aviation ground operations personnel, it will inevitably mean a large proportion of our workforce will pursue other more financially secure work in the weeks ahead, after almost 18 months of diminished or no work,” said Rutherford.

“It will then take at least six months to recruit more workers when state borders reopen, train them up to government standards and have them accredited by the government.


“That means we are likely to see many flights grounded in November, December, January and February owing to a nationwide shortage of professional aviation ground operations staff.”

The AAGHIA represents 80 per cent of all aviation ground handlers, including those at Swissport, dnata and Menzies.

It has released a list of 51 major airports where a high proportion of, or all, ground operations functions are performed by outsourced firms, including Adelaide, Gold Coast and Dubbo.


Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has, however, hinted the payment plan could be extended for those that miss out if the situation arises.

Last week, Australian Aviation revealed that all Qantas and Jetstar employees who were stood down would have access to the $750-a-week relief payments.

The new aviation COVID aid sparked widespread confusion when it was announced last Monday, as early reports suggested the payments were only on offer to pilots and cabin crew, and would only be offered to 50 per cent of all stood-down staff members.

Later, a spokesperson for the Deputy Prime Minister’s office then said that “any frontline staff employed by an airline are eligible” for the aviation-specific support program, but not subcontractors outside hotspots.

This payment resembles 2020’s JobKeeper payments and is facilitated through Qantas.

Like JobKeeper, this subsidy will be paid by the government to Qantas, to be passed directly on to the staff member.

Comments (6)

  • Rod Pickin


    Congratulations to the AAGHIA for preparing for publication the list of 51 locations and the effect upon them over possible service disruptions. I think however they are being a tad cute with their interpretations over the effects of those disruptions. Clearly, if there is a service operating staff will be available, if no service, everyone looses so what are we looking for here, another handout. Naturally there is a compelling argument to support that payment but the sooner someone in command within Govt “grows a pair” and directs the states to cease and desist from proclaiming border closures and lockouts the better the whole nation will be. If that does not happen we can look forward to total havoc, losses of jobs, businesses and possible shortages of goods and services and voter backlash for at least another 6 months. What is going on at the moment is nonsense in the extreme and must stop now

    • GG


      Sadly the government shared your view, and the chickens came home to roost as warned. A huge economic impact and mass social inconvenience that will take many months and $$$ to recover.

  • Ashley


    Yet another union wanting a Fed Govt handout, for their supposed members’.
    Amazing how they come out of the woodwork when cash is being splashed about.

    You never hear from them otherwise, which in the case of the TWU, is a real blessing, as they ‘mouth off’ with such garbage constantly, amid their constant spurious court cases against QANTAS.

    Unions’ are the most irrelevant feature in the workplace these days.

  • Bill


    Foreign companies tendered for work during a global pandemic are crying because there is limited work?The only reason there would be a shortage of ground staff is due to the erosion of wages and conditions.The company’s you mention carnt wait until international borders open in order to tempt fruitpickers to the industry.

    • Nev


      Try ‘can’t’, as there is no ‘r’ in cannot, which is English contracted to ‘can’t’.

      It’ll be a long time before any ‘fruitpickers’ come here, with Delta strain ravaging the eastern states.

    • Adam


      As someone who works in the ground service industry I can tell you that without emergency support payments (like many other areas of the industry is receiving) many experienced staff members will have to find employment elsewhere as they have been temporarily stood down. Fair enough I guess but when flights become regular again these are the people who would be doing the final safety checks before the planes take off. Would you prefer a 15+ year veteran doing the safety check or someone they just hired three weeks ago who has just finished the training module. I mean the governments support at the moment (to third party ground support providers) is to provide funding to train new people. I would rather see that money invested in retaining experienced staff.

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