A decision to offer Sydney Airport security staff a $1,000 bonus to work every rostered shift during the Easter school holiday period has been criticized as “unfair and reckless”.
- Sydney Airport has blamed long delays on staff shortages due to COVID-19 sickness and isolation
- A bonus offered to security staff could see an explosion in COVID cases, the union said
- Qantas and Jetstar called in corporate staff to help baggage handlers but some flights left airports without baggage on board
Passengers have been arriving early and traffic through bag drop and security has improved at the domestic terminal, with 79,000 people expected to transit through on Good Friday.
Sydney Airport has blamed significant delays being experienced by travelers at the airport on staff shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic, with around 20 per cent of staff either on sick leave or having to isolate.
Certis, the Singaporean-based company that is contracted to provide security guards for the airport, announced it would pay staff a $1,000 bonus if they work every rostered shift from April 14 to April 26.
Damien Davie from the United Worker’s Union, which represents airport security guards, said the $1,000 bonus was an “unfair and reckless” way of increasing staff numbers.
“If you don’t turn up for one shift you lose the $1,000 bonus,” he said.
“We’re concerned it’s putting pressure on people to come to work when they’re sick, which may see an explosion in the spread of COVID-19.
“We think Certis and Sydney Airport should do the right thing and reward these workers for the hard work they’ve put in these trying times and just pay everyone the $1,000 bonus, regardless of if they’re at work or not.”
Qantas and Jetstar have had to call in corporate staff to help baggage handlers at Australian airports, as worker shortages lead to massive delays and lost luggage.
The airlines confirmed “a small number” of flights had left airports without baggage on board amid the chaos.
“This baggage is being put on later flights and we are then couriering bags directly to customers,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
Mr Davie said the cash bonus for security personnel was a band-aid solution to try and resolve staff shortages during the busy Easter period.
“What we’re seeing at Sydney Airport is the result of low wages and lack of foresight,” he said.
“Certis laid off over 200 workers during COVID and they’ve gone and got other jobs, and because it’s a low-wage job, they simply haven’t come back.”
Certis’s workforce is 30 per cent below its pre-COVID staffing levels and the company is trying to recruit 100 new security guards.
In a statement, Sydney Airport said 50 new screening staff are currently undergoing accreditation but are not yet ready to start working.
But Mr Davie said the company was struggling to find new recruits.
“Guards there are paid as little as $23 an hour, that simply doesn’t compete in a tight labor market,” he said.
“And when you overlay that with COVID problems, you’re going to struggle to fill spots.
“Everybody should have seen this coming, Easter is always a busy period. Certis and the Airport should have been better prepared.”
Melbourne’s Tullamarine queues improved
After days of long queues and delays, Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport was running more smoothly on the morning of Good Friday.
One traveler told the ABC the queues were “actually pretty good” in comparison to the chaos faced by passengers earlier in the week.
But there were still some small delays on plans leaving the airport.
Qantas said up to 50 per cent of employees in some areas were unable to work due to COVID-19.
The travel pressure over the busy Easter school holiday period has prompted calls for close contact rules to be scrapped for airport staff across the country.
In Victoria, pilots, aircrew, baggage handlers and airport security staff are exempt from close contact rules and are legally allowed to work if a household contact has COVID-19.
However, airlines can opt to be more conservative with their return-to-work rules.
Nick McIntosh, the Assistant National Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, said it had been a “pretty terrible” time for airport and airline workers.
“Unfortunately, this is largely due to a massive own-goal that Qantas have kicked by outsourcing 2,000 of the most experienced baggage handlers and replacing them with a casualised, low-paid workforce that definitely isn’t experienced enough to keep up with this level of demand,” he said.
Mr McIntosh acknowledged problems caused by COVID-related staff shortages, but said things were made worse by the dismissal of those 2,000 workers.
He said it was clear getting inexperienced staff to help with baggage would not be the fix, and pointed to plans landing without bags on board and passengers reporting their luggage had been lost entirely.
“It is a calamitous situation in baggage terminal around the country at the moment, there’s no two ways about it,” he said.
Perth travelers lose bags
Luggage delays have continued at the Perth Domestic Airport where Qantas staff are working to reunite customers with their baggage.
Tens of thousands of people have flown into Perth for the long weekend to meet with friends and family.
Katelin McEwan flew into Western Australia on Wednesday evening for a friend’s wedding on Saturday.
“It’s stressful having no personal belongings and no-one can tell you where it is and when you’re going to get it, so it’s just a big relief to get it back,” she said.
“Everyone at the airport has been really helpful but its been really hard to get anyone on the phone so I just kind of decided to come on down.”
Matthew Magnay and Hayley Stather flew into Perth from Melbourne on Thursday morning.
“When we were in the air, the pilot said, ‘Sorry, but your bags didn’t make it on the plane,'” Ms Stather said.
With hundreds of bags lined up at the Qantas terminal, they were lucky enough to find theirs.
Customers can visit the airport to collect their luggage or Qantas has offered to deliver it.
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