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.