TWU claims 'Amazon' effect has lowered standards in big companies such as Qantas

The TWU has slammed Qantas over safety standards. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
The TWU has slammed Qantas over safety standards. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The Transport Workers Union has warned the "Amazon" effect is deteriorating working conditions, particularly in blue chip companies such as airline heavyweight Qantas.

Fronting a senate committee into job security, TWU secretary Michael Kaine said companies such as Amazon and Uber were operating outside of safe work practices, turning once good Australian businesses into entities set on reducing safety standards.

"The transport industry is being torn apart ... by race to the bottom in standards, driven by quite frankly supply chain greed," Mr Kaine said.

Mr Kaine was also accompanied by former Qantas employee Theo Seremetidis, who repeated his claims the airline at the beginning of the pandemic breached COVID-19 safety standards and had a deteriorating culture, right before the airline decided to completely outsource ground services.

Qantas has repeatedly refuted the claims that its COVID-19 practices at the beginning of the pandemic were in breach of any safety standards.

Mr Seremetidis, who was a health and safety representative when at the airline, claimed planes and equipment were cleaned with just water, nor were handlers provided with adequate personal protective equipment.

"There was a general disregard for the workers, the workers were treated as dispensable," he said.

"At the start of the pandemic, we were directed to clean planes with just water, no sanitiser for the trays, no sanitiser for everything. PPE was not mandated, despite managers were wearing hazmat suits. We were not even provided masks or disinfectant."

Qantas said Mr Seremetidis was stood down after raising the safety issues, because he did not follow company policy in relation to health and safety standards implemented by the airline.

"Mr Seremetidis was directed not to come to work while he was investigated for failing to comply with our Standards of Conduct policy including allegations of attempting to incite unprotected industrial action," Qantas said in a statement.

"There are established, legal mechanisms for health and safety representatives to follow if they have concerns."

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Qantas in 2020 announced it would outsource all its ground handling operations in a bid to reduce costs while the pandemic completely crippled its financial position.

A federal court found the axing of the ground handling staff as unlawful, however Qantas is appealing the decision.

Labor Senator Tony Sheldon accused Qantas of planning to outsource ground handling for years and to carve out a unionised workforce.

Qantas general counsel Andrew Finch refuted the claim during the airline's hearing which came directly after the TWU, flagging the decision to outsource was entirely fuelled by the financial scarring caused by the pandemic.

He also noted up until the beginning of the pandemic, Qantas had been hiring new ground staff and were buying new equipment.

"We had great aspirations for that business but as COVID-19 hit, and as the reality of the global aviation industry and our future became clear, we needed to find savings, not just in that area but right across the business," Mr Finch.

Approximately 9000 jobs have been shed across the Qantas group since the beginning of the pandemic.

Qantas for the 2021 financial year posted a statutory loss of $2.35 billion, as a result of the pandemic grounding the aviation industry.

Qantas corporate affairs executive Andrew McGinnes revealed during the hearing more than $1.6 billion in government assistance had been taken by the company.

This was mostly through JobKeeper payments, which has kept a number of aviation workers employed throughout the shutdown.

Mr McGinnes also noted in a post pandemic world, Qantas' ground services was not as cost effective as using a larger provider such as Swissport or Dnata.

"These third parties have that they were able to defray the cost of those over dozens of airlines ... where we might have some of that equipment sitting around doing nothing for large parts of the day," he said.

"We were facing an $80 million bill at a time when we can least afford it to replace that equipment," he said.

This story Union rips into Qantas on claims of safety breaches first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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