Further airport delays may be afoot, as “chronically overworked” baggage handlers and ground crew at Aussie airports threaten strike action.
About 700 ground crew working for aviation company Dnata have applied to the Fair Work Commission to hold a vote on strike action.
According to the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the action is in protest of Dnata’s efforts to introduce an agreement that would effectively cut workers’ pay and bring in below-award minimum conditions.
Applying to Fair Work means workers would be protected should they vote in favour of industrial action.
Dnata picked up low-cost contracts for ground work at Qantas after the airline illegally outsourced nearly 2,000 ground and baggage crew.
TWU’s national secretary Michael Kaine said since taking on the contracts, Dnata has struggled to fill vacant positions because of low pay and casual, part-time work.
“But rather than lift standards or guarantee workers more hours in their contracts, Dnata tried to bring in overseas workers at great expense,” he explained.
“Workers successfully knocked back that plan, but are now faced with the likelihood of having to take strike action to achieve fair pay increases and job security.”
The union claims the outsourcing has resulted in “several safety incidents” around Qantas aircraft, including belt loaders crashing into planes, locking pins left in landing gear and incorrect weight information given to pilots before take-off.
However, a spokesperson for the airline told ABC News Qantas “completely rejects” the safety allegations.
“The TWU has been trying to discredit the safety of outsourced ground handling, despite data showing a lower rate of incidents compared to when this work was done in-house,” the spokesperson said.
“This kind of behaviour is hypocritical and it undermines the strong safety culture that exists throughout Australian aviation.”
Recently, workers at Dnata quashed a plan to bring in overseas workers from Manila to fill rosters, while the company continued to refuse to increase hours for part-time workers or provide more permanent full-time positions.
“Dnata workers struggled through two years of stand down with no financial support from their employer or the Morrison government,” Kaine said.
“After standing by the company through the hardest times and now working well beyond safe capacity while rosters are severely understaffed, the most experienced workers are facing pay cuts while conditions are below Award minimums.”
Ground crew have warned Dnata that chronic understaffing, airport chaos and safety incidents will only get worse if the company doesn’t offer secure jobs at higher rates to attract and retain workers.
Workers at Dnata catering who service most Australian and international airlines are also considering taking action over low pay and conditions that frequently fall behind the Award, with majority migrant women in the kitchens paid the lowest rates at just $21.54 per hour.
Kaine said while industrial action was always a last resort, overworked, exhausted workers can’t allow their pay and conditions to go backwards.
“Despite picking up a large portion of the outsourced work, Dnata is still attacking the financial security of its workforce, calling into question the profitability of its contracts with Qantas,” he continued.
The TWU is calling for a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to fix the “broken system” of airports and airlines “pushing down wages and conditions through contracting pressures”.
“The Albanese Government must draw a line in the sand and introduce an independent Safe and Secure Skies Commission to rebalance the industry towards secure jobs with decent conditions and away from the corporate greed that’s ruining Australia’s once thriving aviation industry,” Kaine said.
A spokesperson for dnata Airport Operations told Travel Weekly company is committed to working with unions and will continue conversations with TWU and its employees to minimise the impact of potential industrial action.
“We remain committed to ensuring our employees are appropriately compensated and able to complete their roles to the highest standard,” the spokesperson said.
“We have and will continue to prioritise Australian jobs and our local workforce.
“The safety and security of our staff, customers and their customers are our number one priority. We have a robust training programme as well as comprehensive and stringent measures in place that ensure the highest level of safety across our operations.”