Australian flag-carrier Qantas suspended a groundworker who raised concerns about cleaning a Boeing 747 used to rescue 241 Australian nationals from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel Coronavirus outbreak. The worker was allegedly stood down after giving advice to his colleagues about their rights regarding the coronavirus.
Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas had paid tribute to the four pilots and 14 cabin crew who volunteered to take part in the evacuation – all of whom were required to wear masks and gloves. Meal services were limited and crew remained isolated from the passengers on the top deck of the Boeing 747 except for when it came to arming and disarming the doors.
But the Transport Workers Union of Australia claims that cleaners called upon to give the plane a three-day-long deep clean were only given masks and gloves but no eye protection or training on risk management.
Richard Olsen, the TWU’s branch secretary for New South Wales, claims Qantas has intimidated workers who raised concerns about their health and safety, and even threatened to sack some employees.
“We are very concerned that airport workers on the frontline of this virus outbreak are being threatened, intimidated and stood down from their jobs,” Olsen said.
“We call on Qantas to immediately reinstate the worker who has been stood down and to withdraw letters of intimidation to people who expressed concerns about working on flights from China.”
Qantas has since stopped flying to mainland China but is continuing to operate services to Hong Kong. A second Qantas rescue flight from Wuhan arrived in Darwin on Sunday with around 260 Australian’s onboard. It’s not known whether Qantas will now meet the demands of the TWU to provide more protection for cleaners.
The TWU warned of a haphazard approach to offering protection for airport workers. International ground handling agent Swissport and low-cost airline Tigerair also came in for particular criticism from the TWU over their approach to the novel Coronavirus.
Sonia Millen, executive manager for industrial relations at Qantas said in a letter to the TWU that the risks to airport workers were “negligible”.
“… the risk of aviation workers contracting Novel Coronavirus as a result of working on or near aircraft originating from a Chinese port are negligible,” she wrote.
“These already very low risks can be further mitigated with basic hygiene measures. The Group has measures in place to ensure that employees have this and other information available to them,” she continued.
Qantas has been contacted for comment.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.