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.
“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.”
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.”