Ground handling crew used by Qantas, Etihad, Emirates set to vote on industrial action

Ground handling crew used by major airlines including Qantas, Emirates and Etihad will vote on whether to strike following failed talks with their employer to resolve a stalled enterprise agreement negotiation.

Transport Workers Union members employed by air service provider Dnata have been angling for a new enterprise bargaining agreement that will include more offers of part-time work and the hiring of more permanent staff.

Ground crew at the air service provider used by Qantas and 20 other major airlines will vote on whether to take industrial action from Monday. Credit:Fairfax Media

A successful protected action ballot result would extend protections under the Fair Work Act to all union members at Dnata to take action, including possible strikes if a fair agreement is not reached.

The potential for industrial action comes after weeks of chaos at airports, with lengthy queues, cancelled flights and lost baggage infuriating travellers.

The Transport Workers Union alleges Dnata employees are under “enormous pressure” due to understaffing as the company struggles to recruit workers into low paid, part-time work.

“Existing employees are working longer hours, but are being refused the security of more guaranteed hours in their agreement and told they’ll have to work longer shifts before being paid overtime rates,” a Transport Workers Union spokesperson said.

Qantas outsourced baggage ground handling to Dnata and other third-party crew services in 2020, resulting in 1700 redundancies. The Federal Court found the move was in breach of the Fair Work Act, a verdict the airline is appealing in the High Court.

At the time, the airline said it could save $100 million a year by shifting baggage handling, aircraft cleaning and ground support work to third-party aviation service providers such as Dnata or Swissport at 11 airports.

The Transport Workers Union’s national secretary Michael Kaine said that though strike action is a last resort, safety incidents and chronic understaffing would only be exacerbated under the proposed agreement.

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