The Transport Workers’ Union of NSW has sent correspondence to the safety watchdog, SafeWork NSW, requesting assistance and a possible investigation into the safety practices at Qantas and the standing down of a trained Health and Safety Representative (HSR) who was standing up for the safety of others.
On Sunday 2 February 2020, Qantas stood down a worker, trained as an HSR who raised safety concerns on behalf of Fleet Presentation cleaners who had been required to clean aircraft arriving from mainland China.
Richard Olsen, State Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union of NSW said, “The TWU alleges that Qantas, a company that publicly preens itself on its safety record, provided frightened cleaners with little to no consultation on Coronavirus.”
“We allege that Qantas are discriminating against the HSR and engaging in prohibited behaviour, against the HSR, under the Work Health and Safety Act. We already know that Qantas previously appeared to coerce workers into cleaning aircraft coming in from mainland China, issuing them letters threatening to terminate their employment if they refused to service those aircraft.”
“Workers, and in particular health and safety representatives have protections and rights under safety legislation. If safety reps at Qantas can’t stand up to unsafe work practices, then no worker is safe,” Richard Olsen said.
During a meeting held between Qantas and some workers on Friday 31 January 2020, a Qantas Doctor provided advice about transmission of the Coronavirus that was superseded on that weekend.
Fleet Presentation crew at the time were reassured that it was very difficult for the virus to be passed on another human. Qantas were adamant that contracting the coronavirus was extremely low risk, and that workers could not contract the virus from surfaces.
New information was then released that the virus could be contracted from infected surfaces. Fleet presentation workers are in direct contact with these surfaces when servicing aircraft.
On the evening of Saturday 01 February 2020, the Prime Minister shut the border to all visitors from mainland China except for Australian citizens.
Since the information regarding the increased risk of coronavirus was announced on Saturday 01 February 2020, the TWU alleges that there was no genuine consultation from Qantas with workers, no procedural changes or updates, no evidence of any risk assessments, and no information was provided to workers about the Government announcement and shifting medical advice that increased risk.
Richard Olsen, said “Come Monday when managers and others returned to work from their weekend, there has been no end of emails and upgrades of PPE for aircraft cleaners”.
It was on Sunday our member, the trained HSR gave a lawful direction to cease unsafe work to workers in his workgroup under section 85 of the WHS Act.
He believed that workers working at the Sydney International Airport for QGS were exposed to an immediate and imminent risk, that of being exposed to coronavirus if they serviced an aircraft that had arrived from China.
It was on Sunday when Qantas stood down our member, confirming to a TWU Official that they were doing so because he ceased unsafe work and allegedly caused anxiety to workers by giving this direction.
“The HSR was stood down by Qantas before any work actually ceased, which is what makes this situation even more ludicrous. Clearly workers at Qantas who are on 24/7 rosters only have access to properly provided safety advice and consultation when managers come in between 9 to five on weekdays”, Richard Olsen said.
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