Qantas, Etihad and more could be hit with airport staff strikes as baggage handlers mull industrial action

Qantas plane Sydney Airport

Source: supplied.

Think the recent holiday chaos at airports was bad? Well things could be about to get much worse with a potential baggage handlers’ strike on the cards at airports across the east coast of Australia.

The Transport Workers’ Union applied to the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday to vote on strike action over a new workplace agreement with Australia’s largest baggage handling company, Emirates-owned dnata. A strike would affect 20 airlines — including Qantas, Etihad and Singapore Airlines — and thousands of travellers.

leaked memo from dnata shows the kind of pressure staff are under to work harder and faster in ever-worsening conditions.

The memo claimed that aircraft and safety equipment have been damaged as a result of shortcuts and understaffing that is widespread in airports and with airlines since travel began again in full force. The company also said unsafe behaviour has resulted in several safety incidents in the past fortnight and warned staff to push back on any “pressure from airline reps” or managers to work faster.

Sydney airport among the world’s worst

The potential strike comes as Sydney airport is named among the worst airports in the world by flight tracking and data platform FlightAware.

Sydney came in at sixth in the world for cancellations and ninth for delays, with 34.2% of flights affected by delays in the past two months.

And with darkly humorous timing, on Monday hundreds of passengers at Sydney airport were forced to line up outside on a chilly July morning as thick fog wreaked havoc for airlines.

Last week the ABC reported that Australia as a whole had recorded its worst flight cancellation and performance rate since such records began, with only 63% of Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Rex flights hitting their arrival time in June; 61.9% departed on time.

Qantas CEO keeps ‘Joycing’ it up

Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, and its CEO, Alan Joyce, have been at the centre of Australian airport chaos since travellers began taking to the skies again.

As Bernard Keane wrote in Crikey last month, Joyce spent the pandemic clamouring to return to the skies, only to utterly fail to provide the most basic services effectively: on-time flights, luggage that arrives with the passenger, and decent customer service.

Joyce has received a lot of criticism for his approach, particularly given he illegally sacked thousands of baggage handlers during the pandemic and then outsourced their jobs.

Last month Crikey asked our readers to share tales of Qantas woe to catalogue the many ways Joyce had failed and we were overwhelmed with stories of lengthy delays, cancellations with zero notice and zero attempts at assistance, luggage travelling halfway around the world without its passenger, and hours upon hours of travellers’ time spent in the black hole of customer service with a satisfactory outcome rarely reached.

Just this week, Crikey reader Glenn got in touch about a Qantas disaster. After receiving a text and email telling him his flight to Darwin was delayed by over an hour and a half, he arrived at the new time to check in to find his flight had taken off at the original time.

“I lost five days of consulting work in Darwin and had to pay other expenses,” he told Crikey.

And he’s not alone. Last week Dave Noonan, nationwide secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, tweeted that Joyce has entered the lexicon as a byword for travel chaos.

Meanwhile, despite Australian airports and carriers being in worse shape than ever, the travel industry appears to be bouncing back strongly. Flight Centre has announced it was transacting similar values month-by-month that it transacted before the pandemic.

Hopefully, the airlines don’t Joyce it up.

This article was first published by Crikey.

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