Qantas Chaos: Outsourced Baggage Handler Says One In 10 Bags Doesn’t Make Flights | qantas

On average, one in 10 pieces of luggage is lost or not loaded on Qantas domestic flights every day at Sydney airport, according to a baggage handler who works for the company the airline outsourced work to.

Guardian Australia may separately disclose that Swissport, one of the main companies that Qantas has outsourced to provide baggage handling services, has been forced to contract with two separate labor recruitment companies to find workers for the shifts that Qantas has contracted to cover.

Amid widespread staffing shortages in the aviation and ground handling businesses as the beleaguered sector struggles to cope with a return to pre-pandemic travel demand, attrition rates are soaring among new hires marked by chaotic scenes and poor conditions, and Swissport is now offering $50 a day. bonus to baggage handlers at Sydney airport simply for sticking to their shifts for the rest of the year.

While global and local airlines have long relied on third-party contractors to fulfill ground handling services outside their hubs, Qantas and its budget airline Jetstar’s dominance in Australia have meant the recent rise in lost baggage. and its emergence as the airline with the worst on-time performance and cancellation rates in May have contributed significantly to the chaotic scenes at Australian airports this year.

Qantas has suffered a shortage of baggage handlers since its 2020 decision to outsource some 1,700 jobs. That decision was found to be illegal and partly motivated by anti-union sentiment, and the airline is now trying to challenge that decision in the high court.

In an interview with Guardian Australia, a Swissport baggage handler in Sydney, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, expressed concern that those loading and transporting baggage to and from Qantas and Jetstar flights were overworked, poorly paid and unable to handle the increase. in luggage in recent months, as domestic travel had skyrocketed.

The worker said that of the roughly 100 trolleys, or carts, that carry 30 to 40 pieces of luggage to and from the guts of Qantas planes every day at Sydney Domestic Airport, “these days there are around 10 wheelbarrows every day that you just won’t make it.”

They said that during the recent school holiday peaks, Qantas and Swissport office managers rolled up their sleeves and helped move the luggage along with the handlers, however “there are still not enough of us to get to all the bags”.

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In recent months, Swissport has hired labor recruitment firms Star Aviation and Workfast, the latter of which is not aviation-specific, to fill shortages of its teams working at Qantas and Jetstar operations. . Training and processes differ by airline, and the type of aircraft determines how baggage is loaded.

The Swissport worker who spoke to The Guardian said that around 25% of his colleagues each day were from labor recruitment companies, many of whom had no specific training. As a result, they said some were cutting corners or doing less thorough work.

“A lot of us get frustrated with them because they don’t do basic things right. Sometimes they just move but don’t scan bags, which is a necessity, because it can mean we don’t know the weight distribution on a plane or if a bag has arrived.

“They have also been leaving transfer bags at the arrival carousels, which is why the bags don’t make it onto flights with passengers,” they said.

The worker said staff attrition was becoming a bigger problem as the airport environment became more active and demanding, and said many of those who joined Swissport when they did, as well as in the months after They had left for jobs in different industries, as well as with other airlines and aviation businesses at Sydney airport that pay more than Swissport.

They said that while staff were not complaining about the temporary $50 per day bonus for reporting to work, they were still frustrated by the conditions. “Swissport is offering anything except permanent salary increases.”

Additionally, in jobs that Swissport advertises in cities like Brisbane, the company stipulates that new hires spend their first month at Sydney Airport, billed as a “great opportunity to experience Sydney,” where it also pays for their hotel accommodation.

At a recent Sydney airport job fair, Swissport was hiring for part-time contracts, but offering workers full-time hours under these contracts, at $23.41 an hour.

The worker said recent coverage of Qantas’ big spending on new ultra-long-haul planes for direct flights to Europe had angered tired workers, with Swissport employees increasingly talking about union organizing. “I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see Alan Joyce on the televisions where we work showing these shiny new flights.”

The worker also raised concerns that during a busy shift recently, when a colleague was injured, both the supervisor and manager were busy helping with other activities, and with no health and safety representative on site, there was no one to report. the injury. a.

“I would tell everyone, don’t check bags when you fly Qantas at the moment, or better yet, if you can help it, don’t fly Qantas at all,” the worker said.

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Staff shortages and attrition were a growing problem for ground handling providers and the airlines that depend on them. An industry source told Guardian Australia that in recent weeks, a company has hired 20 new employees at 9am on a Monday at an Australian airport. By 4 p.m. that day, eight of them had quit, and by Friday of that week, only seven of the 20 employees remained.

“Young people who take on these roles, they get yelled at, they get paid poorly and now they say, ‘you know what, to hell with this, I’m going to work in a cafe because they pay me. as much or more than what I do here and I don’t have the stress’”.

“And those who were laid off during the pandemic say they don’t want to go back to the industry that shut them down overnight. So we have this huge experience gap,” the source said.

Michael Kaine of the Transport Workers Union speaks to the media at Sydney airport in April.
Michael Kaine of the Transport Workers Union speaks to the media at Sydney airport in April. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The Transport Workers Union has long criticized Qantas’ outsourcing decision and successfully challenged it in federal court. TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said Swissport “had no choice but to keep wages low because Qantas’ contract pressure is neither sustainable nor safe”.

“It is not surprising that Swissport is unable to recruit or retain staff. Swissport would rather pay workers an extra $50 a day to report to work, bring in interstate workers, and outsource to companies like Star Aviation than pay adequate wages.”

A Qantas spokesperson told The Guardian that “sourcing remains a challenge for the entire aviation industry” and that its ground handling providers “have improved significantly since the peak of the holidays in April”.

“While much remains to be done to improve our operational performance, the lost baggage rate has improved in recent months,” the spokesperson said.

A Swissport spokesman said the company had worked with Qantas to varying degrees for decades because “the scale of our operations means we can provide a cost-effective service that is safe and reliable”.

“The rapid uptick in travel demand has put pressure on resources across the aviation sector, both here in Australia and around the world.”

Do you know more? Contact elias.visontay@theguardian.com