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Qantas execs asked to work as baggage handlers

written by Hannah Dowling | August 8, 2022

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 Easterhours-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.”

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Comments (12)

  • Nigel


    I bet the ‘Ringleader’ of it all won’t seen…in fact he hasn’t been seen during all this debacle, went on holiday didn’t he? Shoves other execs in front of the TV cameras, while he is hunting for new property + holidays, and enjoys his bonus from the savings he made, only possible through the elimination of workers…what a lovely fella!!!

  • Greg Stevenson


    Qantas has only itself to blame. The ‘rott’ starts at the top so what do you expect. It about time a new CEO was found along with the Board. Then and only then Qantas may have a chance of survival

  • Jeff


    Time to replace one more baggage handler, Alan Joyce!!!

  • Martin


    I wasn’t sure of the meaning of “up to 100 senior managers at Qantas are now being asked to VOLUNTEER to support ground staff”. Does this mean they are being asked to do additional work beyond their regular role without further payment? Or does it mean they may be requested to help out with ground handling in place of their usual management work, while paid their usual salary? If the latter, an interesting outcome that I suspect is at least in part due to the earlier outsourcing decision!

  • Doug Bright


    Good! Now maybe someone will get to understand how on a Perth – Adelaide – Port Lincoln trip, I ended up in PL but my bag was sent to Anchorage in Alaska, leaving me stranded in PL with only the clothes I stood up in and none of the gear I needed for my work there for a week’s flight training.

    Fortunately I got my stuff back again, but I had to largely chase it up myself, for despite all the tags, bar-codes, tracking systems and automated handling technologies then available, no one seemed to have the capacity to find out how a mere 2,500km journey for it turned out to be a round-the-world 30,000km monument to incompetence, and worse, things seemed to have not improved at all in the last two years, when they should have done so due to reduced volumes.

  • Ryan O'Connell


    This shall be interesting to see who thinks this work is below them.

  • Jay


    I suppose one reaps what they sow, don’t they AJ?

  • Smith


    4 Qantas flights last week. Minimum an hour late each one. Food on the international legs (Sydney-Thailand) was appalling. Domestic transfer in Sydney was a disaster, massive queues. When 2 x Qantas pilots jumped queue at domestic transfer I thought there was going to be a punch on, so many upset premium customers. Booked business class return trip to LA next month with Air New Zealand today. Done with the red roo.
    Qantas shareholder and (Soon to be former) platinum QFF

  • Gordon Mackinlay


    It goes back to the trueism that outsourcing, never ever provides a alternative to in house staff. Be they cleaners – technicians – human resources management. It invariably costs more than previous costs, and the standards deteriorate.

  • Ruth Aickin


    37 yrs ago Qantas had the same problems!! And still ongoing!! So strip it back to basics and you’ll find where the problems lie.. !!!

  • Doctor


    Long story short..the buck ends with the CEO-AJ & the Chairman of the Board…so obviously they’ve outlived their “Use by Date” and have to be sacked immediately
    They have effectively succeeded in turning a great Australian Premium Airline into the shambles that it is today…without even a First Class section anymore (on most flights if not all)…
    All they have been able to come out with are just lame excuses…
    This is what happens when you get a LCC(Low Cost Carrier) person to try to run a Premium Airline..a big fat failure to this experiment…and at what cost?…yes the fare paying pax in Australia and the world…
    Yes AJ & the Chairman of the Qantas Board has to go….
    It’s time we get Premium mentality Aviators to take over the helm of Qantas and sack all these “Bean Counters” & so called pseudo aviators….

  • Warren


    Correct me if I’m mistaken … Ground Operations are subcontracted to SwissPort. How can a Qantas Manger be asked to work for another company in an area they aren’t trained in ?

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