Qantas virus protections fall short, national plan needed: TWU

The Transport Workers’ Union is calling on the Federal Government to implement a national plan to lower the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 in aviation as Qantas announced changes which fall short of measures of keeping workers and passengers safe.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said a plan was needed which should apply to all airlines flying into and around Australia.

“We need a national plan to keep crew and passengers safe and this plan should be done in consultation with the aviation workers who are at the coalface. It is not good enough for Qantas to come up with its own plan for how it will resume flying, since the airline has proved itself to have downplayed the risks of this virus right from the start. Other at-risk workplaces are being strictly regulated and airlines should be no different. The Federal Government needs to come up with a national plan which should be adhered to be any airline flying in Australia,” Kaine said.

“The Qantas measures today are troubling. Qantas talks about providing ‘peace of mind’ and ‘wellbeing’ when the focus should not be on making people feel good but on taking the virus seriously and stopping the spread of infection. Workers want to be consulted on issues such as making masks for passengers mandatory, how that can be enforced and whether the middle seat should be kept free. Contrary to Government guidelines on consulting with workers on COVID-19 plans, Qantas has failed to discuss changes with workers which will not only impact on passenger safety but their safety too,” Kaine added.

At least 60 workers across the Qantas Group have been infected with the virus. A dossier compiled by TWU safety experts revealed systematic failing in how Qantas dealt with an Adelaide Airport cluster, which saw 34 workers infected and over 750 quarantined.

Safe Work NSW is investigating Qantas over its suspension of an aircraft cleaner for raising concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

SafeWork NSW issued Improvement Notices on Qantas, reflecting the airline’s “inadequate system of work used to clean planes” with aircraft cleaners forced to wipe tray tables with the same dirty cloths and handle blood, vomit, soiled nappies, used masks and tissues without protective gear. The Regulator’s Improvement Notices stated that Qantas was at risk of exposing workers to an infectious disease.

Qantas repeatedly referred in communications to its workers that the risk of infection and spread was “low”, even comparing the virus to the “seasonal flu”. The airline stressed “normal processes” were adequate in dealing with the virus and relied on putting up notices about hand-washing rather than providing training or protective gear to workers.

The TWU is looking to appeal a court ruling from yesterday backing in a Qantas decision to refuse sick leave to workers battling illnesses during stand downs. Workers, including a man battling cancer and another awaiting a triple bypass both with over 30 years work at Qantas, took the case over the airline’s refusal to pay them sick leave during the stand down period.

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