A survey of over 850 Qantas workers and sensitive workplace, health and safety documents reveal Qantas has shown a shocking disregard for the highly contagious and potentially deadly nature of COVID-19.
At least 60 people nationally across the Qantas Group have been infected with the virus, with one of the worst workplace clusters in South Australia centring on the Qantas baggage room at Adelaide Airport, with 34 people infected and 750 Qantas staff quarantined.
The Qantas survey and document evidence puts into doubt Federal Government plans to make workplaces safe in order to reopen the economy and highlights the difficulties Qantas will have in returning to a full flying schedule unless it addresses failings in dealing with the virus.
The national survey of Qantas workers shows almost half of workers say they don’t feel they can raise safety issues at work with the vast majority saying 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
Qantas workers described a lax attitude to cleaning with one stating: “If it wasn’t for the rain, ramp equipment and machinery wouldn’t get washed or cleaned at all.” Another said: “So many positive cases travelling on our Qantas aircrafts. Crew are notified eventually, meaning a week or more later.”
A dossier compiled by TWU safety experts on the Adelaide Airport cluster reveals Qantas delayed a deep-clean by almost three days of common areas of the baggage room after the first infection case was confirmed. It shows that 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. At least 60 people nationally across the Qantas Group have been infected with the virus, with one of the worst workplace clusters in South Australia centring on the Qantas baggage room at Adelaide Airport.
SafeWork NSW is already 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.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said both the dossier and the survey pointed to serious failings by Qantas which should be urgently investigated by both health and workplace safety regulators.
“It is unthinkable that an airline like Qantas has been operating a business-as-usual approach in the midst of a global pandemic which is being transmitted across international borders primarily by individuals via air travel. Qantas from the start has denied that the virus posed a risk so it wouldn’t have to spend money on protective gear, training staff, giving them extra time to clean equipment, clean themselves and change into protective gear. It is no wonder that 93% of Qantas workers are worried about their safety at work and it is no wonder that clusters like the one in Adelaide Airport were allowed to occur,” Kaine said.
“Qantas workers and Qantas passengers will not have confidence about returning to work or resuming flying unless this issue is addressed urgently and the airline changes its ways. This will hurt the resumption of normal life in Australia and hurt our economy. It points to the further need for the Government to assume a bigger role in aviation since it is clear that there are serious failings with the management style in Australia’s major airline,” Kaine added.
TWU SA/NT Branch Secretary Ian Smith said workers across Adelaide Airport were angry at the way Qantas handled the virus, ignoring their concerns and downplaying the risks.
“Qantas was responsible for the cluster by not ensuring better cleaning standards in common rooms, by delaying a deep-clean of the baggage room areas when the first case was confirmed and by telling workers who had been exposed it was safe for them to continue going to work. Workers are angry that instead of taking responsibility, Qantas has tried to blame them for how the cluster spread. They want answers and they want SA Health and SafeWork SA to do an immediate and thorough investigation,” Smith said.
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