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Qantas asks execs to be baggage handlers

Qantas baggage handlers will walk off the job on Monday, inflicting likely delays on international flights. <i>Photo: AAP</i>

Qantas baggage handlers will walk off the job on Monday, inflicting likely delays on international flights. Photo: AAP

Senior executives at Qantas have been asked to trade their high-profile positions to work as ground handlers as part of the airline’s plan to combat labour shortages.

The embattled carrier’s chief operating officer, Colin Hughes, told staff in an internal memo it was seeking expressions of interest for a contingency program expected to last three months.

“People who respond to the EOI will be trained and rostered into the ramp environment at Sydney and Melbourne airports,” Mr Hughes wrote.

“These people will support our ground handling partners, who are managing the Qantas operation, over a three-month period from mid-August.”

At least 100 managers will be recruited to sort and scan bags and transport luggage. The expression of interest calls for applicants to take on three or five days of work a week, for four-six hours per shift.

“There is no expectation that you will opt into this role on top of your full-time position,” Mr Hughes said.

The role involves sorting and scanning bags prior to loading them onto aircraft, scanning bags and loading onto a belt, and moving them into planes and removing the on arrival.

It comes after Qantas sacked at least 1600 baggage handlers during lockdown, outsourcing the service to contractors. The Federal Court has ruled that move illegal, a decision the airline has previously vowed to appeal.

The once highly regarded airline recently apologised after a litany of complaints from frustrated passengers who have endured delayed and cancelled flights, long queues at airports and lost baggage in recent months.

It is hoping to address the problems by scheduling fewer flights in the next month and hiring more staff.

Qantas cuts domestic flights

Domestic and international chief executive Andrew David acknowledged Qantas had been plagued with problems that let customers down in recent months, as the airline recovered from the COVID lockdown period.

“Restarting an airline after a two-year grounding is complex and aviation labour markets, as with many others, are extremely tight,” he wrote in a recent article on a Qantas website.

“Compounding that is the fact that COVID cases are steeply on the rise again, at the same time as the winter flu season.”

However, Mr David denied the outsourcing decision was behind any of the recent challenges, citing hassle-free 2021 Easter travel period.

“The truth is that the difficulties we are facing now are because of COVID and flu-related sickness, as well as an extremely tight labour market,” he wrote.

“It’s a difficult truth that airlines, airports, air traffic control agencies and almost every business in Australia and around the world is experiencing.

“We are working hard to proactively manage this challenge.”

A Qantas spokesperson said the airline was committed to improving its services.

“We’ve been clear that our operational performance has not been meeting our customers’ expectations or the standards that we expect of ourselves – and that we’ve been pulling out all stops to improve our performance,” they said in a statement.

“As we have done in the past during busy periods, around 200 head office staff have helped at airports during peak travel periods since Easter.

“While we manage the impacts of a record flu season and ongoing COVID cases, coupled with the tightest labour market in decades, we’re continuing that contingency planning across our airport operations for the next three months.”

– with AAP

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