TWU urges Qantas to act on COVID cases as domestic freight in Melbourne shuts

The Transport Workers’ Union is urging Qantas to co-operate fully with the Victorian authorities after a number of COVID cases were identified among Qantas domestic freight workers.

Qantas domestic freight has been shut down at Melbourne airport for at least 24 hours with TWU working with the authorities to ensure it can reopen safely.

TWU Vic/Tas Branch Secretary John Berger said Qantas must comply to ensure a cluster does not emerge from the outbreak in Melbourne airport as it previously did at Adelaide airport where a cluster of 34 people was allowed to occur.

“Qantas does not have a good track record in recognising the highly contagious and deadly nature of COVID-19 and in ensuring its workers are safe. Because of this we have made it clear to the Department of Health & Human Services that we need absolute assurances that the worksite is safe before it reopens,” Berger said.

“We want to see Qantas moving quickly to ensure any infected and exposed workers are allowed to self-isolate and get tested. Qantas must conduct a swift deep-clean of all areas where infected workers might have been. The airline must ensure information is given to workers on measures being put in place to make their workplace safe, including training on use of PPE, distribution of PPE and extra time for workers to use PPE and observe good hygiene,” he added.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the Melbourne shut down of Qantas domestic freight was a big test for the airline.

“Qantas must do everything necessary to take the threat at Melbourne airport serious and to contain this virus. Previously workers have been threatened with sacking when they raise concerns and a Sydney airport cabin cleaner, who is a trained health and safety representative, remains suspended. This combined with the appalling failings at Adelaide Airport in March and April when a cluster of 34 was allowed to occur shows the airline must drop its dictatorial style and cooperate with the authorities and its workers,” he said.

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.

SafeWork NSW is investigating Qantas after it suspended an aircraft cleaner in February for raising concerns about the virus. 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.

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