Probe launched into Qantas cleaner’s suspension
SafeWork NSW has launched a formal investigation into the suspension of a Qantas aircraft cleaner who raised concerns about workers being exposed to the coronavirus.
The NSW Branch of the Transport Workers' Union said the incident related to a Sydney aircraft cleaner, who was also a health and safety representative, stood down on February 2.
The TWU said Qantas stood the worker down for advising colleagues on their concerns amid growing coronavirus fears and for giving the direction to cease unsafe work on flights arriving from China, then the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Just days earlier, Qantas sent a letter threatening to terminate at least two cleaners who refused to work on a flight that arrived in Sydney from Beijing, the TWU said.
Qantas has denied any wrongdoing at the time, stating the workers were performing duties safely in line with the medical advice of the company and federal government.
A spokesman for Qantas confirmed SafeWork NSW had written to the company confirming the investigation and would assist SafeWork NSW with its inquiry.
"A union delegate was stood down pending an investigation after incorrectly telling employees it was not safe to work on aircraft arriving from China in early February," he said.
"This was against the advice of health authorities and despite additional safety equipment being provided to employees."
He said the employee was stood down on full pay and investigations were continuing.
He could not confirm if the worker was still being paid under the current staff stand-downs due to COVID-19.
The TWU claim the worker's concerns were vindicated after SafeWork NSW issued Improvement Notices on Qantas in March, reflecting the airline's "inadequate system of work used to clean planes" with aircraft cleaners forced to wipe tray tables with dirty cloths and handle blood, vomit, soiled nappies, used masks and tissues without protective gear.
The Regulator's Improvement Notices stated that Qantas was at risk of exposing workers to an infectious disease.
TWU NSW Branch Secretary Richard Olsen said it was vital workplace health and safety representatives had the full backing of the law and the regulator to ensure workers got the protections they need.
"If safety reps at Qantas can't stand up to unsafe work practices, then no worker is safe. The TWU believes there is ample evidence to prove that Qantas engaged in discriminatory and prohibited behaviour," said Mr Olsen said.
The Qantas spokesman said no other health and safety representatives in Sydney or Australia had taken the same action as the worker involved, either before or after the incident.
"We are also unaware of this occurring to any other airlines who operated from China into Australia or any other country," he said.
The investigation comes after 11 Qantas baggage handlers tested positive with two further cases among family members, taking the cluster of cases associated with the Qantas staff to 13.
Originally published as Probe launched into Qantas cleaner's suspension