The Transport Workers’ Union has requested that Qantas provide information and documents under workplace health and safety laws regarding the infection of six baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport. The TWU has also written to Adelaide Airport and Safe Work SA, since up to 100 workers from various companies have potentially been exposed.
The TWU accuses Qantas of breaching the act by not taking precautions to protect its workers, not having procedures in place to minimise transmission and failing to provide workers with equipment to protect themselves.
TWU SA Branch Secretary Ian Smith said there was worrying evidence that the infection was allowed to spread because of lax systems in place. “We are informed that following an initial infection not enough protections were put in place to stop the spread. This is very serious as it means Qantas allowed its workers and workers in other companies to become exposed through its own negligence,” he said.
Qantas has repeatedly down-played the risk of exposure to its workers, including cabin crew, cleaners, caterers and baggage handlers. In several correspondence it has described the risk of exposure as “negligible”.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said Qantas must step up to ensure its workers are safe. “We have repeatedly asked Qantas to listen to the concerns of its workers and to act to protect them. They have clearly failed to do this. In Adelaide an infection cluster has been allowed to occur. In Sydney a worker remains stood down for raising legitimate concerns about the spread of the virus. Qantas should stop playing politics and worrying about what strife Virgin is in. Instead it should turn its attention to how it is leaving its workforce open to exposure to a deadly virus,” he said.
The TWU has asked Qantas to carry out an audit across the network to ensure that no other workers are at risk of contracting the virus. The union is also seeking assurances that all Qantas workers who have been infected and having to self-isolate are paid in full while out of work.
The TWU has written to Adelaide Airport for an explanation on how the cluster was allowed to occur and what new systems are in place to protect all workers at the airport. The union said it expects the airport to take a leading role in helping to find out the nature of the outbreak.
Safe Work NSW found Qantas was risking exposing workers and passengers to the virus during an investigated 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. The worker remains suspended and Qantas has yet to meet the requirements of set down by Safe Work NSW.