Qantas has urged all states to make COVID vaccines mandatory for all Australian aviation workers.
While it is encouraging that NSW and SA have made immunizations mandatory for international aviation employees, the company stated on Wednesday that a national approach is required to avoid a “patchwork of rules between the borders.”
The airline said it had already strongly encouraged workers to get the jab and offered paid time off for appointments because it was an essential service and had to guard against “severe disruptions”.
It comes after the TWU discovered earlier this month that only one-third of aviation workers had been fully immunised with two doses.
“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,” said the airline in a statement. “We’ve also lobbied the government for priority access to the vaccine for aviation workers.
“We’ve done this not just because vaccinations are the only way to end the cycle of lockdowns and border closures, but because they are proven to be one of the strongest layers of protection against the potentially serious health impact of this virus.
“While all the data shows that the risk of COVID transmission onboard aircraft remains very low, and there are many safeguards at airports, 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 Qantas Group is responsible for an essential service, meaning that we need to guard against severe disruptions. We’ve seen that just one COVID positive employee can inadvertently shut down a freight facility or passenger terminal, which can have a big impact on the broader community and economy.
“These are some of the key reasons why we believe a COVID vaccine should be a requirement for all aviation workers in Australia.
“We understand there are a lot of complicating factors for our people – including access to the vaccine and those who don’t want the vaccine or still have unanswered questions about it. But we need to find a path through those challenges if aviation is to return to normal.”
The TWU argued in response that the problem is not getting workers to agree to vaccinations but that many either can’t get access to the jab or are losing work by taking time off to get it.
“Yet again Qantas is behaving like a dictator trying to blame workers for a problem which should be borne by the Federal Government for the failed rollout and by Qantas which is failing to guarantee that workers won’t lose a cent in pay if they get the jab,” said the union’s national secretary, Michael Kaine.
“Alan Joyce, who earned $11 million last year, is ignoring the grim reality for his workers that after a year of stand down on meagre income they are struggling. Every extra shift, every hour’s penalty rate is vital to these workers.
“Many have told us they have missed out on pay to get vaccinated but not everyone can do that. Qantas management needs to drop the tone with its workers and start recognising what the real problem is.”
The national carrier has long been a strong supporter of vaccination, with CEO Alan Joyce pledging that all international passengers on long-haul flights will be required to have a COVID vaccine in order to fly.
He stated in December of last year that the airline made the decision because it has a “duty of care to our people” and will prioritise “safety over popularity.”
By Joe Cusmano