Strike cancelled as airline workers score better pay

Qantas reports $2 billion loss

Travellers can breathe a sigh of relief, with next week’s airline worker strike cancelled thanks to a last-gasp resolution.

About 350 ground handlers had planned to walk off the job for 24 hours on Monday as part of a push for more job stability and pay increases.

But the Transport Workers Union said on Thursday the industrial action had been called off, after Dnata ground-handling and cargo employees struck a favourable deal with the company.

Dnata contracts ground staff to 30 airlines in Australia, including Qantas.

In a win for its workers, the new agreement offers more opportunities for part-time employees to convert to full-time roles, and for casuals to become permanent.

With backpay, workers will also get an immediate pay increase of 12.6 per cent, with a further 4.6 per cent in 2023.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said Dnata employees were “thrilled” with the deal, which came more than two years after they were denied JobKeeper when COVID grounded airlines.

“Overworked ground staff needed a fair deal that would sustain them and their families so that they could remain in the industry. By standing strong together, they achieved it,” Mr Kaine said.

“It’s a relief for hard-working families that last resort strike action is no longer necessary.”

Dnata Australia (ground-handling and cargo) CEO Burt Sigsworth said the company was pleased to have reached an agreement with its workers, and was committed providing appropriate compensation despite a “challenging business environment”.

Australians stranded after Jetstar groundings

Low airline worker wages blamed on Qantas

Thursday’s deal came after the TWU criticised Qantas’ low-cost contracts for putting enormous commercial pressure on service providers such as Dnata, which the union said were preventing more favourable enterprise agreements.

Qantas has been struggling to rebuild trust among workers and passengers after mass layoffs early in the pandemic left the airline struggling to find workers to meet demand when travel resumed.

In late August, Qantas engineers began delaying the start of each shift by a minute in protest against the pay deal offered by the airline. It includes a two-year wage freeze followed by a below-inflation 2 per cent annual increase and a $5000 one-off bonus.

Engineers are still threatening to strike for up to 12 hours at a time, and also ban overtime, if their action brings no resolution.

Mr Kaine said it shouldn’t be so hard for workers to get job security and pay rises above the “bare minimum”.

“It’s a sad reality that we’re going to continue seeing chaos at airports until we regain the levels of training and experience the industry has lost,” he said.

“Aviation needs a circuit breaker to rebalance the power from overpaid executives making decisions to line their own pockets, and ensure good, safe and secure jobs are prioritised.

“We’re calling on the federal government to establish a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to deliver quality service standards for the Australian travelling public.”

Security bungle hits passengers

Also on Thursday, it emerged a security bungle at Sydney airport had led to more than 200 passengers being escorted off a Qantas flight in Melbourne by armed police.

The alarm  arose after a passenger inadvertently went from an unscreened to a screened area within Sydney Airport, a Qantas spokeswoman said.

The passenger then boarded flight QF487, which landed in Melbourne just after 9pm on Wednesday.

After the plane arrived in Melbourne, officers helped Qantas security staff escort the 225 passengers and crew out to the baggage terminal.

“As a precaution, all passengers on QF487 were escorted from the aircraft when it landed in Melbourne and taken through the screened part of the airport into the unscreened area, thereby avoiding compromising the secure section of the Melbourne terminal, which would have required all passengers who had already been through security to be rescreened,” the Qantas spokeswoman said.

“We will investigate to understand how this incident occurred and we apologise for any inconvenience to passengers on the flight.”

The United Workers Union, which represents security officers, condemned the breach, pointing to it as the latest warning sign of serious shortcomings in Sydney Airport staffing.

The public should be alarmed that a person could unknowingly or otherwise avoid security screening measures, union property services coordinator Damien Davie said.

“Unfortunately what aviation security guards who work in screening say is that understaffing, a failure to adhere to set limits for workers examining baggage X-rays, a lack of training and other serious workload issues mean security is at risk of being compromised regularly,” he said.

The security bungle did not cause severe delays, with journalist Patrick Durkin – who was on the flight – saying passengers were delayed only about half an hour after landing.

Mr Durkin said the plane’s captain initially advised passengers to remain in their seats after landing, then announced their flight was deemed unscreened.

“[They] then said that we would, as a group, be escorted from the gate,” Mr Durkin said.

“They said that you’re not to go to the toilet, you’re not to remove anything from your person.”

He said officers were holding machine guns as passengers were walked out.

Sydney Airport declined to comment on the security issue.

-with AAP

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