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‘Dictator’ Qantas accused of forcing some workers to pick pay or jab

An aircraft operated by Qantas Airways taxis on the tarmac at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)
An aircraft operated by Qantas Airways taxis on the tarmac at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)

The union for transport workers has accused Qantas of forcing some workers in their supply chain to give up hours of pay in order to get vaccinated.

In a survey of 800 aviation workers by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), some workers claimed they were struggling to organise their vaccinations without potentially giving up their shift.

“The problem is not that workers aren’t getting vaccinated. The problem is that many workers either can’t get access to the vaccine, or are finding that when booking vaccine appointments in advance they risk losing work ahead of rosters getting published,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.

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Kaine accused Qantas of “behaving like a dictator” and failing to guarantee workers wouldn’t lose pay if they have a vaccine appointment booked.

A Qantas spokesperson told Yahoo Finance that the airline provides “all employees” with eight hours’ paid leave to get the vaccine.

“Ever since a COVID-19 vaccine was approved the Qantas Group has strongly encouraged our people to get vaccinated and are offering paid time off to get the jab,” Qantas said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

However, a spokesperson for TWU told Yahoo Finance that Qantas was only providing directly employed workers with paid leave, excluding outsourced workers.

Qantas in June 2020 announced it was permanently terminating 6,000 roles, then in late August planned to cut and outsource a further 2,500 contracted workers.

WATCH BELOW: Qantas to freeze wages as it looks to cut costs

But TWU’s Kaine said the airline should cover these workers as well.

“Most workers performing Qantas work are not directly engaged by Qantas,” he told Yahoo Finance.

“Now they want to pretend that mandatory vaccination for those left employed by Qantas will fix aviation. There are thousands of workers in the Qantas supply chain who will also not be paid when they get vaccinated,” he said.

“We call on Qantas to guarantee the pay of all workers in their supply chain if they are serious about wanting aviation workers to be protected and reduce the risk of spread.”

Kaine added that many aviation workers told the union they missed out on pay to get the jab.

“But not everyone can do that,” he said. “Every extra shift, every hour’s penalty rate is vital to these workers.”

Qantas lobbying for airline workers to get vaccine priority access

Airline workers are currently not listed as one of the groups with priority access to vaccines. Quarantine or border workers, health care, aged care and disability workers, high-risk workers like defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing, and supermarket workers are on this list.

Qantas believes it is responsible for an essential service, and is currently lobbying the Federal Government to grant aviation workers priority access to the vaccine.

“Nothing reduces the risk to health like the vaccines approved for use in Australia. That’s critical for our frontline teams, who come into contact with thousands of people each day,” the statement said.

Last week, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce warned that workers could potentially be stood down amid the lockdowns.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 17: Qantas Airlines CEO Alan Joyce is seen during a Business Council of Australia breakfast in the Mural Hall at Parliament House on March 17, 2021 in Canberra, Australia.   (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Qantas Airlines CEO Alan Joyce. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

"We're not at the point of requiring stand-downs in our domestic operations at this stage," said Joyce.

"But to be honest, we can't rule it out if multiple states keep their borders closed for extended periods."

Victoria and South Australia entered lockdown temporarily, meaning half the country was in lockdown, but restrictions have since been lifted in both states.

Meanwhile, NSW’s lockdown has been extended until the end of August, and overnight recorded 239 locally acquired cases of COVID-19.

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