The Transport Workers’ Union has requested documents under lawful entry powers from Qantas over breaches of workplace health and safety laws, after a worker at Sydney Airport has tested positive for COVID-19.
The Qantas Sydney worker is the latest case among staff at the airline, which includes 17 baggage handlers as part of a cluster at Adelaide airport, 19 cabin crew and eight pilots. Qantas has admitted 50 workers have been infected.
Qantas has repeatedly down-played the risk of exposure to its workers and in several correspondence to workers and the TWU it has described the risk of exposure as “negligible”, even stating and advising workers that COVID-19 could not be contracted from surfaces.
The TWU yesterday evening filed a legal request to Qantas stating it believes the airline has failed to reduce the risk of infection to workers, “resulting in infection of a significant number of workers in its operations in Sydney and interstate, and the likely exposure of hundreds more”.
The union is seeking information on the total number of workers who have been infected with COVID-19, the steps taken to isolate workers who may have been in contact with the virus and copies of hazard management plans to minimise the risk of infection. The TWU believes that workers are not being consulted properly by Qantas on the high risk of contracting COVID-19, and is seeking evidence of consultation occurring with its workforce.
TWU NSW Branch Secretary Richard Olsen said Qantas had failed to protect its workforce.
“Workers at Sydney airport and at airports around the country are scared and they are not getting the support from Qantas, as Qantas are not complying with their legal obligations. With confirmation of yet another worker infected, people right across the airline will be worried about going home to their families and spreading the infection to them. We believe that Qantas is in breach of workplace health and safety laws and has not been putting in place systems to minimise the risk. Workers are petrified to speak up – at Sydney airport a worker remains suspended after Qantas took action against him for raising concerns about COVID-19. Now Qantas is being investigated by SafeWork NSW but it shows no sign of changing its tune and putting in place protections for workers,” he said.
Michael Kaine TWU National Secretary said: “Qantas has shown a frightening disregard for worker safety since the outbreak of this virus. It has operated a business-as-usual response, refusing to hear workers’ concerns about the lack of information, consultation, training and protective gear. The TWU has consistently raised concerns about cabin crew, aircraft cleaners, baggage handlers and other workers not being given protections they need. Now over 50 Qantas workers have been infected and we believe Qantas has serious questions to answer.”
SafeWork NSW found Qantas was risking exposing workers and passengers to the virus during an investigation into how Qantas cleaned its planes, after a cleaner was suspended for raising concerns. The safety regulator said aircraft cleaners are forced to wipe tray tables with the same dirty cloths and handle blood, vomit, soiled nappies, used masks and tissues without protective gear and without using disinfectant. The Regulator’s Improvement Notices also stated that Qantas was at risk of exposing workers to an infectious disease. The worker remains suspended and Qantas has yet to meet the requirements laid out by SafeWork NSW.