The Federal Government has failed to establish a national covid-safe plan for aviation as international borders open in weeks, threatening to risk public health and cripple the industry with further shutdowns, says the TWU.
The TWU warns that the Prime Minister has left airports vulnerable by opening up without rapid testing in place, and failing to address skill shortages after illegal outsourcing from Qantas and an absence of government support forced many highly trained workers out of the industry.
The TWU has called for rapid pre-flight testing and vaccine passports across all international and domestic airports. Covid cases have been known to spread through domestic air travel following the completion of 14 days quarantine by international passengers. Now, vaccinated arrivals will only be required to quarantine for seven days.
Qantas’ supply chain has seen several serious safety incidents in its outsourced ground work, including belt loaders crashing into planes on one occasion leaving a gaping hole, incorrect weights being given to pilots prior to take-off, and damage to property including a child’s smashed wheelchair.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said that while flights taking off again will bring relief to struggling workers, the reprieve will be short-lived if safety measures are not enforced.
“Resuming international flights in a covid-safe way is an important part of living with the virus, but we can’t afford to be reckless. We must arm ourselves with every available weapon to protect aviation from covid shocks, but we have been provided no such plan from the Federal Government.
“Rapid pre-flight testing must be urgently established across the international and domestic networks to reduce the risk of transmission and keep planes flying day in, day out. After seven days quarantine, thousands of people will hop on domestic flights to visit family and friends and there is no reason why they shouldn’t do that, once every step has been taken to ensure they don’t pose a risk to aviation workers, passengers or Australian communities.
“If international flights are going to resume, we need skilled and credentialed workers on the tarmac to make sure aircraft are in a flight-ready condition and aviation is safe. The Federal Government must end its vow of silence and force Qantas to reinstate the experienced workers it illegally outsourced.
“You only need to look at what has happened domestically to Qantas’ previously unblemished safety record to see what happens when skilled workers are forced out. There have been several near-misses including a hole ripped through the belly of a plane and pilots receiving incorrect information about the weight of the plane they are flying. This cannot happen domestically or internationally. It is only a matter of time before disaster strikes,” Mr Kaine said.
The TWU wrote to the Prime Minister three weeks ago calling for a coordinated national approach to support the safe reopening of aviation, including rapid testing and targeted financial support for all aviation workers. The TWU is yet to receive a response.
The TWU’s Roadmap was endorsed by leading Australian epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman from the University of South Australia, who said it “is a major step forward, and if implemented, would greatly reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.”
Rapid testing is already used in international airports across the world to detect positive cases early, including at London Heathrow and in terminals in the USA, Ireland, Germany and Turkey. Sydney international airport has rapid PCR testing installed with results in just 20 minutes.
The TGA this week approved the use of rapid antigen testing at home, with Australians soon able to access the tests from 1 November.