Qantas has reportedly called on its upper management and executives to roll up their sleeves and work as baggage handlers under a three-month “contingency program” to battle staff shortages and flight disruption.
Notably, it comes after Qantas outsourced 2,000 of its in-house ground handlers last year, in a decision that the Federal Court later ruled was done in partial violation of the Fair Work Act and subsequently rejected Qantas’ application to appeal. The airline has filed a second appeal and the case is ongoing.
It also comes as baggage handlers at third-party service Dnata, now contracted to complete Qantas’ ground services, prepare to vote on strike action amid ongoing disputes over pay and working conditions with management.
According to a report by The Australian, up to 100 senior managers at Qantas are now being asked to volunteer to support ground staff, with duties including scanning and sorting passenger baggage, driving tugs, and loading bags onto aircraft.
“During your time in the contingency program, you’ll be an embedded resource within the ground handling partners,” chief operating officer Colin Hughes said in an internal note to staff about the program.
“This means you’ll receive a roster, be scheduled to operate, and be supervised and managed in the live operations by our ground handling partners.”
Hughes added that there would be “no expectation” that staff would opt into the role on top of their usual full-time duties.
“We’ve been clear that our operational performance has not been meeting our customers’ expectations or the standards that we expect of ourselves,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
“While we manage the impacts of a record flu season and ongoing COVID-19 cases coupled with the tightest labour market in decades, we’re continuing that contingency planning across our airport operations for the next three months.”
While it’s not the first time that executives have been asked to support staff further down the corporate ladder, this three-month contingency plan marks one of its most significant attempts to supplement its staff amid an ongoing worker shortage.
It comes as Australia’s aviation sector battles and industry-wide shortage of skilled workers in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to chaotic scenes in airports, along with increasing cases of delayed and cancelled flights and lost baggage.
Qantas has faced increased criticism in recent weeks, after the airline posted the worst on-time performance out of all Australian carrier in June, with nearly 50 per cent of all flights either delayed or cancelled. The result saw Qantas named among the global airlines with the worst cancellation rate by Cirium.
In 2022, Qantas has faced a string of problems, including huge delays at Easter, hours-long call wait times, and even a revelation that the cabin crew of a Qantas A330 were made to sleep across passenger seats in the economy cabin due COVID-19-related issues.
Most recently, the airline has been accused of failing to board bags onto aircraft and losing or damaging them in the process, as well as leaving passengers stranded at airports around the world after cancelling flights last-minute.
Last month, Qantas domestic and international chief executive, Andrew David, penned an op-ed to defend the airline after months of bad press and growing customer dissatisfaction.
In the piece, David admitted the airline is “absolutely not delivering” on service but argued its problems are being replicated around the world.
However, David said there have been a “number of factors” that have led to its problems.
“Restarting an airline after a two-year grounding is complex and aviation labour markets, as with many others, are extremely tight,” he said. “Compounding that is the fact that COVID-19 cases are steeply on the rise again at the same time as the winter flu season.”
The news also comes just days after a Citibank investment advisor downgraded its assessment of Qantas stocks from ‘neutral’ to ‘sell’, as the airline continues to battle scrutiny over poor customer service, increasing flight disruptions, and staff shortages.
The investment bank also revised its profit forecast for the Flying Kangaroo for the 2023 financial year from $740 million down to $514 million, a drop of over 30 per cent.
According to Citibank analyst Samuel Sow, as Australia’s only premium airline, Qantas must address its operational and service shortfalls.
“Qantas charges a premium for tickets so we expect performance will be a key priority,” Sow said. “However, doing so economically appears to be difficult.”