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Staff sleeping in swags by Aussie airport carousels

March 27, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) is demanding that airports and airlines be  held to account after secret footage obtained last week by the ABC’s 7.30 Report showed workers at one of Australia’s busiest airports setting up camp and sleeping at the airport.

The footage showed swag-type bedrolls and grubby sheets next to the baggage carousel in the staff-only area of Sydney Airport’s international terminal. Workers say they are forced into sleeping at the airport because they can’t afford to go home between shifts.

The TWU says staff are forced to nap between shifts by the “Americanisation” of the Australian workforce, with split shifts that start early and finish late and limited guaranteed hours.

Airport sleeping quarters for staff. Photo obtained by ABC

Staff often find that it’s not worth returning home when they are rostered off.

Split shifts mean workers can spend 14 hours and more per day at the airport while being paid for just six or seven hours, the TWU says. The union maintains that low wages and insecure hours means the incomes of many aviation workers are slipping below the poverty line.

“Workers are struggling on slave wages and sleeping on bedrolls because they have to spend long days at work to support their families,” TWU national secretary, Tony Sheldon, declared.

“They are terrified of raising concerns because the bosses are standing over them warning them against complaints. This is being allowed to happen because airports and airlines are outsourcing work to low-cost companies and not giving a damn about the workers in their supply chains that it affects.”

The company which employs the workers highlighted in the ABC program is Aerocare, which employs up to 3000 staff throughout Australia, having expanded by 300% over the past four years.

“Aerocare was set up to provide workers to carry out work for airlines on the ground – baggage handlers, ramp workers, aircraft-towing drivers, check-in staff, catering staff and cleaners,” the TWU says.

“Aerocare guarantees its workforce just 60 hours per month – there is no weekly guarantee. It pays below the award for weekend work, overtime and night work and doesn’t pay allowances provided for in the aviation award.”

The aviation industry, which hires companies like Aerocare to carry out work, is booming, the TWU points out. The four main airports, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, earned AUD 1.8 billion profit last year, while Qantas earned over AUD 850 million profit in the six months to December.

According to the TWU: “Aerocare is not the only company willing to subject its staff to these appalling conditions. A new Emirates-owned company, Airport Handling Services Australia, is seeking approval from the Fair Work Commission for an enterprise agreement which cuts award rates and offers workers just 60 hours work per month.”

Sheldon says the Government has “utterly failed to protect working families and has left them to the ravages of corporate greed.

“We will fight for dignity and fairness for aviation workers. There’s no shortage of money to pay workers decent wages and treat them fairly – so if employers aren’t going to do the right thing, then it’s time we change the law to make sure workers’ rights are sacrosanct.”

Written by Peter Needham

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