The Transport Workers’ Union has shared its concerns over Qantas’ recent plan to deploy its senior management staff to the tarmac to assist baggage handlers, citing safety concerns.
An internal memo was leaked on Monday showing that Qantas has 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.
However, in response, TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the practice could undermine safety, and claimed Qantas’ ongoing staffing crisis is the direct result of its decision to outsource 2,000 in-house ground handlers last year.
The Federal Court later ruled this outsourcing decision was made in partial violation of the Fair Work Act, and upheld its ruling after Qantas’ appeal. A second appeal application has been filed and the case is ongoing.
“Introducing inexperienced office workers into specialist aviation workplaces will only increase the likelihood of serious injuries and safety incidents on site, throwing airports into further disarray,” said TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine.
“It’s a shocking insult that nearly 2,000 experienced workers are forced to sit at home because their jobs were stolen from them while corporate ring-ins are being dragged to the baggage rooms to help ease airport chaos,” he added.
“This memo is an admission the illegal outsourcing of groundwork achieved nothing other than the total devastation of what was once Qantas’ trusted service. The airline, its workers and the travelling public have well and truly been “Joyced”.
Meanwhile, baggage handlers at third-party service Dnata, now contracted to complete part of Qantas’ ground services, are preparing to vote on strike action amid ongoing disputes over pay and working conditions with management.
According to the memo, 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 the 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.”
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 most recently, increasing allegations 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.
“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.”