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International restart in jeopardy, industry bodies warn

written by Hannah Dowling | September 6, 2021
dnata is one of the companies who will miss out on COVID disaster payments.

Australia’s restart of international travel could be delayed by months due to a “torrential exit” of skilled ground services workers from aviation, industry bodies told the Senate on Monday.

Speaking before the Senate rural and regional affairs and transport references committee, the Australian Aviation Ground Handlers Industry Alliance (AAGHIA) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) have argued that the exclusion of ground handlers from aviation-specific government wage subsidies could see “thousands” of skilled workers leave the industry, resulting in hundreds of cancelled flights.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the industry could see a “torrential exit” of skilled workers that have fallen through the cracks of the government’s aviation and COVID disaster relief payments.

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“People simply cannot be stood down, indefinitely, without pay,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine on Monday. “They won’t be able to support their families and so they will leave the industry.”

“This could well lead to a situation where our aviation capacity is grounded for a period of time when we need it the most,” he added.

Meanwhile, the AAGHIA reiterated its previous claim that “hundreds” of flights will be cancelled between November and February “right as the country opens up” if nothing is done to provide ground workers with secure working conditions and stable wages until then.

Representing the industry body, Ann Maree Jackson said on Monday: “Thousands of critical aviation ground operations workers are leaving the industry, as they have been excluded from the Australian government’s support package for the rest of the sector.”

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The AAGHIA has said there are up to 4,000 ground workers around the country that are stood down without pay who don’t live in COVID hotspots, meaning they have no access to the government’s COVID-related disaster payments of $750 per week.

“This will have an enormous effect on jobs, business confidence and consumer confidence at precisely the time the Australian economy should be recovering from the COVID pandemic, as state and international border restrictions are eased.”

Crucially, the industry alliance said it could take up to six months to “recruit, train, and accredit new staff to federal government standards” before ground operations can resume, and airlines can return to normal operations.

It comes one month after the AAGHIA penned a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to the same effect, arguing that 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, and the disparity could see “hundreds” of flights cancelled over the summer travel season.

Jackson said on Monday that Joyce is yet to respond to the letter.

The AAGHIA said that issue is even more prominent in regional Australia where nearly “100 per cent of both check-in and baggage handling is outsourced”, leaving workers ineligible for the wage subsidies offered to airlines.

“The overarching concern here is that workers are leaving the industry permanently,” Kaine added.

“And while I hesitate to say it, you can understand that attitude, because workers that are not directly engaged by airlines have been abandoned, and the companies that are engaged [to provide ground services] have been abandoned.”

Kaine added that the notion that these skilled aviation workers “will flood back in” to the industry once conditions pick up is “fanciful”.

“We need to save them right now, before they leave, we need to support them.”

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6 Comments

  • LC KoolG

    says:

    If those same airlines and airports had not sold their landside operations to foreign governments this would not be an issue. Australian companies have such a pathetic strategic outlook and thats why there are so few left.

    • Rocket

      says:

      Firstly, what ‘airports’ have sold their operations to ‘foreign’ companies – as far as I’m aware, every airport in Australia, private or public owned, employs it’s own staff directly.

      This suggests you perhaps don’t know the difference between ‘airport employees’ and ‘airline ground staff’????

      Secondly, so your solution is that Qantas should have just kept paying substantially more by providing hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment to a relatively small group of staff so they could keep the work in house???

      Not much point in keeping it in house if all of the other airline contract work has been snapped up by the independent ground handlers to the point that Qantas can’t do it for the same cost in house, if being forced to keep it in house, they go broke as a result.

      This whole emotive tangle about the Ramp and Baggage being contracted out needs a damn good dose of reality…. in the long term, those jobs were never going to be able to be saved, it was just not sustainable and I am surprised the work has been kept in house for so long.

      Since Hallmark Aviation Services in the USA is half owned by the Qantas Group, do you think all the local carriers and international carriers in places such as LAX, SFO, HNL, etc. complain about a ‘foreign airline’ doing their ground handling???? – NO. Because everywhere in the world except, until recently here, it has ALWAYS been the case for the last 30-40 years that airlines contract out this sort of work.

  • Lindsay Ives

    says:

    If the skilled workers are made to have a vaccine some of them may never go back.

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    I fully accept and understand the problems being experienced by displaced workers specifically engaged within our aviation industry at the moment but unfortunately, I don’t have the answer, actually, I think I do. Worthy of note is the fact that in the main, our state governments’ action on border closures have caused the largest slice of the problem but they seem to escape in depth analysis of their behavior towards what has transpired. Meanwhile at the federal level we have a Senate committee investigating and or receiving submissions surrounding the debacle specifically at this point from the AAGHIA and the TWU who’s understandable desire, apart from political agitation, is to gain some government funding for those displaced workers, they may well have a point but, can you really expect the Feds to cough up monies in this instance to support unworkable decisions made by state governments that could well destroy many industries within this great land too. The Federal Govt. should immediately advise the states to rescind their border closure actions and advise all parties that action will be taken in the highest court to either amend or challenge the current ruling; further, in the national interest, the Government should introduce legislation set to change the sections of the constitution that by all counts seem to condone the states actions which are sending the country into ruin. It beggars belief.

    • Rocket

      says:

      Please educate yourself on how constitutional change occurs.

      The ONLY way is via a referendum that garners a majority of voters in a majority of states and a majority overall.

      That is what would be required to amend, at least for a start, s118 of the Constitution which requires that the Commonwealth and every State give full faith and credit to the acts, regulations, laws and public records of every other state.

      To repeal that section would be short-sighted madness – as you would then potentially not be able to drive your car across a state border unless you obtained a driver’s license in the state you were intending to enter.

      The reality is that if this was a case of a severe outbreak of Cholera or Smallpox in WA or NSW, people would be demanding the borders be closed until it was eradicated.

      The Constitution is fine, it provides a guarantee of freedom of movement while protecting the ability of states to curtail that when the need arises for health or other reasons. Removing the sections that allow the States to do so would open a can of worms that would render that freedom of movement and mutual recognition of each others laws null and void, which could be used by some states to erect all sorts of impediments to movement and for what, what in the grand scheme of things, is a temporary measure.

      We are not going to be in this situation once sufficient people are vaccinated.

      • Rod Pickin

        says:

        Hi Rocket and thank you for the reminder, that’s precisely why my words were, ( 2nd last line ) “set to change the sections of the constitution) which can only be done by referendum, maybe I should have stated that too to avoid any confusion, sorry mate, Cheers RodP

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