Qantas worker exposes the truth about the airline’s delays and worker shortages under Alan Joyce

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A former Qantas baggage handler has lifted the lid on the chaos behind the scenes as the airline scrambles to save its sinking reputation with travellers experiencing long delays and flight cancellations.

The man, who chose to remain anonymous, claimed that after 1,800 baggage handlers were axed during the Covid-19 period and work was outsourced to third-party contractors, luggage was left in rooms for weeks and planes were even damaged.

An anonymous former baggage handler for Qantas says the airline has suffered since sacking its experienced ground crew and replacing them with inexperienced contract workers

‘Yeah, when the pandemic hit, we were getting JobKeeper for a little while and given enforced redundancy,’ he told Nine’s Today Show.

‘A lot of guys didn’t want to go. A lot of the older guys with 35, 30 years-plus experience, they had no idea how to even apply online for a job. So it affected the older guys.

The former Qantas employee says that morale sunk after experienced baggage handlers were let go and performance dived with luggage being left in rooms for weeks and planes damaged

The former Qantas employee says that morale sunk after experienced baggage handlers were let go and performance dived with luggage being left in rooms for weeks and planes damaged

A former Qantas baggage handler says standard plane turnaround times won't be met because of inexperienced and short-staffed ground crew

A former Qantas baggage handler says standard plane turnaround times won’t be met because of inexperienced and short-staffed ground crew

CEO of Qantas domestic and international Andrew David said the delays being experienced are not the result of outsourcing but can be blamed on Covid depleting the workforce

CEO of Qantas domestic and international Andrew David said the delays being experienced are not the result of outsourcing but can be blamed on Covid depleting the workforce

‘When those older guys left, a lot of boys were suffering depression. It was a very dark time.’ 

The baggage handler said the outsourced ground crew workforce could not match the skills and experience of those let go.

‘You have got a skilled workforce that just has been totally sacked,’ he said.

‘Bags being in rooms for weeks at a time, waiting to be claimed. There has been damage to planes. 

‘There is no morale whatsoever. They are contractors, they are not even employed by Qantas. They don’t even get staff travel. 

‘There is no incentive even to want to stay there. You can’t just learn 30 years experience with a 20-minute security or safety online course.’ 

During the pandemic 15,000 Qantas workers were laid off without pay or forced to take leave in mid-2020, while another 2,500 were stood down in August 2021 – despite the airline receiving $2billion in government assistance.

Qantas performance hits a near record low after more than half of all domestic flights in the first week of July were delayed or cancelled (pictured, passengers waiting at Sydney Airport)

Qantas performance hits a near record low after more than half of all domestic flights in the first week of July were delayed or cancelled (pictured, passengers waiting at Sydney Airport)

Much of the blame for cost-cutting has been sheeted home to Qantas chief Alan Joyce, who it was revealed yesterday was the only boss of one of Australia’s top 100 listed companies not to receive a bonus in either the 2020 or 2021 financial year.

However, he still takes home $1.98million a year. 

Qantas sent reinforcements from head office to help with the chronic delays but they were not much help, according to the baggage handler, who now works for one of the third-party contractors.

‘Bringing in a 50-year-old middle management person, that’s a sedentary lifestyle for them and then they have to come in and throw 600 bags of 20-kilos plus for eight hours – that hurts young men,’ he said.

Qantas cancelled 6.7 per cent of flights and had an on-time performance of 44 per cent in July (pictured, a queue at Sydney Airport's domestic terminal)

Qantas cancelled 6.7 per cent of flights and had an on-time performance of 44 per cent in July (pictured, a queue at Sydney Airport’s domestic terminal) 

The baggage handler said the new workforce would need time to improve but the staffing levels remained too low.

‘Well, you know, give them enough time they are going to learn their trade and they will get used to it, but if they are understaffed you can’t get the planes in and out in time… 40-minute turn arounds, if you are understaffed, you can’t do it,’ he said. 

With more than half of its passengers having their flight either delayed or completely cancelled last week, it was a horror seven days for the airline.

Qantas cancelled 6.7 per cent of domestic flights with an on-time performance of just 44 per cent.

Although Qantas offered apologies for its recent performance it claimed a Covid depleted workforce was mainly responsible for the failings.

‘I can – first of all, (offer) an apology to all of our customers because, clearly, we haven’t been hitting the levels that our customers expect from us, in terms of our on-time performance, in terms of our operational performance,’ CEO of Qantas domestic and international Andrew David told the Today Show.

However, Mr David said the baggage handler’s claims did not stack up.

Passengers are urged to be mindful of delays and cancellations as staff shortages caused hour-long delays and cancellations (pictured, Jetstar flight rescheduling poster at Sydney Airport)

Passengers are urged to be mindful of delays and cancellations as staff shortages caused hour-long delays and cancellations (pictured, Jetstar flight rescheduling poster at Sydney Airport)

‘The issues that we are facing now is because we have got Covid throughout the community and we are getting higher sickness levels,’ Mr David said.

Mr David said outsourcing had been a ‘tough’ but necessary move but the delays plaguing Qantas were part of an industry-wide problem.   

‘It was a very, very tough decision to make. As I said, it was a very tough period for Qantas in general,’ he said. 

‘We had to make many difficult decisions and that was one of them. 

‘But that is not the reason why we are not meeting the standards that our customers expect of us. 

‘It is, in fact, affecting the whole industry, Ally. On Sunday, Virgin cancelled 20 percent of its flights. We were absolutely chockers Brisbane to Sydney and Gold Coast to Sydney because we picked up a lot of those passengers.’ 

Mr David said Qantas was hiring again and seeing steady improvement. 

‘What I tell you is the ground handlers have increased their workforce by 15 per cent since the Easter period, so they are attracting people and they are retaining people,’ he said.  

‘I think people have a high expectation of the national carrier and it is our job to meet those standards. We are seeing improvement. 

‘Our mishandled bag rate now is less than one in 100. It is close to what it was pre- pandemic. 

‘Our call centre wait times now are in the minutes, not the hours that they were, but our on-time performance is not where it has to be. 

‘We are continuing to make change, to improve. We are confident that the public will see Qantas continue to improve and we will get back to the levels and expectations that our customers have of us.’

Qantas (pictured) said delays and cancellations of flights had been exacerbated by staff sick with the flu and Covid-19

Qantas (pictured) said delays and cancellations of flights had been exacerbated by staff sick with the flu and Covid-19

Many Qantas passengers claimed they were still awaiting a refund on tickets they bought but were unable to use.

Others who did get a flight have since suffered lost luggage and wait times of up to 12 hours on the phone to speak to customer service to track it down.

The Transport Workers Union took Qantas to court in late 2020, when it was ruled the airline illegally sacked nearly 2,000 baggage handlers, cleaners and ground staff before outsourcing their jobs to foreign-owned providers, including Swissport. 

The airline, which argued the outsourcing was a necessary financial measure during the Covid pandemic, appealed the ruling and lost – but has since taken the case to the High Court in a last-ditch bid to avoid paying a mammoth compensation bill.

Qantas argued the moves were necessary due to losing $22billion in revenue and losses in excess of $5billion over the course of the pandemic. 

It also said the government handouts in part went towards continuing repatriation and freight flights during the pandemic. 

Sydney Airport predicted 2.1 million visitors would be going through its gates between June 27 and July 17, while Qantas and Jetstar anticipated 350,000 travellers in the first weekend of July.  

Delays are expected to continue until at least July 18. 

The Bureau of Infrastructure Transport Research Economics on-time performance data for the month of May showed Qantas at 60.7 per cent with a 7.1 per cent cancellation rate.

Official on-time performance figures for last month are not due until late July.

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