Oh, how the times have changed. Qantas Airways, the iconic flying kangaroo and traditional flag carrier of Australia has asked senior executives to work as baggage handlers at Sydney and Melbourne airports for the next three months, in response to major staff shortages. It is believed that the airline’s head of operations is looking for at least 100 volunteers to pull double duty, shifting their working environment from the boardroom to the baggage carousel, performing the all-important tasks of unloading bags, and driving carts between terminals. Considering the travel wait times and cancellation issues currently plaguing the airline, the extra help can’t come soon enough.
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Over the past few months, Qantas has been hit hard by mass labour shortages, stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in August 2020, the airline revealed it would be outsourcing its ground handling operations at 10 Australian airports to third-party contractors, leading to the immediate sacking of 1,683 employees. Further sackings followed as international and domestic travel was put on hold, leading to around 2,000 staff losing their jobs, which the Full Federal Court deemed was a breach of the Fair Work Act. Flash forward a few months and the return of travel didn’t go quite as smoothly as Qantas had hoped. While the airline claimed it was back at full capacity in Easter 2022, the recent reports have not been kind.
Several media outlets have been quick to label the airline as “Australia’s least reliable carrier”, off the back of intense delays and cancellations. In fact, according to data from FlightAware, 17 per cent of Qantas flights were delayed and 5 per cent were cancelled on Tuesday, alone. According to Qantas bosses, however, the issue is not a direct hang-up of the past few years, but more an issue with the rising number of flu cases in the community.
In an open letter entitled Explaining What’s Happening with Air Travel Right Now, Qantas Domestic and International CEO, Andrew David said that the carrier had employed a further 1,00 staff in recent months and was in the process of “working hard to proactively manage” the challenge.
“Restarting an airline after a two-year grounding is complex and aviation labour markets, as with many others, are extremely tight. Compounding that is the fact that COVID cases are steeply on the rise again at the same time as the winter flu season,” David said. “We’ve recruited more than 1000 people, rostering more people on stand-by, consolidating flights onto bigger aircraft, basing more customer support team members at our airports and have doubled the number of people working in our call centres, with average wait times now better than they were pre-COVID.”
While that’s an encouraging sign for prospective travellers, it hasn’t negated the airline’s need to call for help. According to a memo from chief operating officer Colin Hughes obtained by 7News, the 100 head office employees-turned-baggage handlers are set to ease the load at Sydney and Melbourne airports for the next three months. Volunteers must be able to work in four- or six-hour shifts, three or five days a week, and would involve sorting and scanning bags, loading them onto a belt and offloading bags upon arrival.
“You will be fully trained to safely carry out the functions you are supporting,” Hughes’ memo read. “During your time in the contingency program, you’ll be an embedded resource within the ground handling partners. This means you’ll receive a roster, be scheduled to operate and be supervised and managed in the live operation by our ground handling partners.”
Importantly, Qantas isn’t alone in its issues, with global carriers also feeling the pinch. Last month, German national airline, Lufthansa was forced to cut more than 1,000 flights due to staff strikes, while London’s Heathrow Airport contentiously asked airlines to stop selling seats over the summer. In his op-ed, Qantas Domestic and International CEO, Andrew David confirmed that the industry wasn’t out of the woods yet, but many hands will hopefully make light work.
“Given COVID and flu will be ongoing, there will be a few more bumps along the way, but over the weeks and months ahead flying will get back to being as smooth as it used to be,” he wrote. “And there is a lot to be excited about.”
Just what that is, we’ll have to wait and see.
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