Ruby Princess inquiry shows Aviation workers were put at risk

Aviation workers were put at unacceptable risk after Ruby Princess passengers were allowed to disembark and board flights.

The TWU is calling on Qantas and Virgin which transported Ruby Princess passengers to reveal if any cabin crew, cabin cleaners or baggage handlers subsequently contracted the virus. The findings of the inquiry into the Ruby Princess issue are being submitted to the NSW government today.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said airlines must be held to account for the duty of care to their workers.

“It is clear that cabin crew, pilots, cabin cleaners and baggage handlers were exposed to an unacceptable risk over the Ruby Princess debacle. The inquiry has highlighted the failures of the Federal and State authorities but what is unclear is how the likes of Qantas, knowing the risk, protected their workers. We know Qantas crew who operated on flights with Ruby Princess passengers were not offered the opportunity to self-isolate or given any information on staying safe once they got off those flights. Workers who crewed flights with Ruby Princess passengers, cleaned the planes and handled their baggage were terrified when they returned to their families that they would spread the virus and they were given no support from the airline,” Kaine said.

“From the get-go Qantas has downplayed the highly contagious and deadly nature of the virus. It suspended a cabin cleaner for raising concerns and allowed a cluster of 34 cases to occur in Adelaide because it kept sending exposed workers into work. If we are to learn lessons from the outbreak and spread of the virus in Australia then we need full transparency on what has been going on. Qantas and other airlines must reveal how many of their workers have contracted the virus and if any were linked to cruise liners,” he added.

SafeWork NSW is investigating Qantas after it suspended the cabin cleaner. A report by SafeWork NSW highlighted an “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.

COVID-19 cases among Qantas workers at Melbourne airport have broken out among the domestic freight and cleaning operations in recent weeks.

A survey of over 850 Qantas workers in May showed almost half of workers said they didn’t feel they could raise safety issues at work while the vast majority said this was because they didn’t believe it would make a difference.

The survey also showed: 2% of staff say they got just one hour training on staying safe on the job; 81% said they were not consulted on health and safety procedures; 93% said they were concerned about safety and the safety of others

A dossier compiled by TWU safety experts on the Adelaide Airport cluster revealed Qantas workers who had been exposed to the first infected worker over several days involving close contact were directed to continue turning up for work. No soap or hand towels were available in the bathroom used by baggage handlers the morning after the first case was confirmed.

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.

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