[Australia] Union Urges Quantas To Reverse Sick Leave Decision For Stood-Down Crew

17 APR 2020

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is calling for an immediate reversal of the decision by Quantas not to allow cabin crew - who developed COVID-19 after being stood down - access to their accrued sick leave entitlements, as the number of cases connected to the airline continue to grow, ABC News reports.

Qantas has defended its decision with the argument that there is "no job for them to be sick from" saying that many of its sick employees became infected while on holidays. 

ACTU said more than 50 direct Qantas employees have now tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with some subsequently passing the illness on to family members.

One cabin crew employee reportedly told the ABC they believe they contracted COVID-19 while flying on an international route in March. The employee said they started to feel sick within a week of their return to Australia and then tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the cabin crew member, they were paid around four days sick leave by Qantas before being stood down, along with another 20,000 other employees of the airline.

After being stood down, the employees were not entitled to further accrued sick leave, They have been paid out of their accrued annual leave instead.

"It's all pretty ordinary," the employee said. "I was there for work. Even if I got the virus while on the ground in the United States during my layover, I was still working for the company."

"I want to be paid for my time in isolation and compensation. They should give me my leave back."

Michele O'Neil - ACTU's president - said that the 11-year-old daughter of a Qantas cabin crew worker reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday after her mother’s positive test result.

"This was something the cabin crew member was really fearful of," Ms O'Neil said.

"She was worried she wasn't given any paid accommodation to isolate away from her family and now her worst fears are realised with her asthmatic child having COVID-19.

"This is a very harsh, unacceptable way for Qantas to deal with workers who are trying to do their very best amongst this crisis.

They also confirmed that those who had been stood down were not able to access their accrued sick leave, because "there is no job for them to be sick from".

Quantas’s spokesperson said the stood-down workers should seek to access Job Seeker or Job Keeper payments while unwell instead. He added that Qantas has applied to the Federal Government for Job Keeper payments for its workforce.

Additionally, the airline claims that few of its workers have actually contracted the virus while on the job, saying rather that some employees contracted COVID-19 while on layover in international countries between jobs on flights.

In a statement, Ian Hosegood - the airline's medical director - said, "There's been no confirmed cases of transmission of the Coronavirus to employees or customers onboard our aircraft, or any aircraft globally for that matter." 

"In most of these cases, the employees have contracted the Coronavirus while overseas including staff who were on holidays.

"While the risk remains low, we have put in place increased measures to protect our people while they are at work and our customers including enhanced cleaning at airports and on aircraft and providing necessary safety equipment."

The airline also defended its decision to not offer its cabin crew free accommodation to self-isolate away from their families, because Qantas staff were exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine laws until two days ago.

"Qantas has fully complied with the requirements of Australia's Chief Medical Officer in relation to the quarantine exemptions for aircrew," the spokesperson said.

Quantas now only directly employs a skeleton crew, which will staff humanitarian flights organized by the Federal Government out of international countries for Australians returning home.

On their return crew members working on these flights will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

The spokesperson said, "They can elect to self-isolate at home or in a hotel. If a hotel, Qantas will pay and provide meals." Adding, those that contract COVID-19 while on the job or come into contact with a confirmed case will also receive 14 days of self-isolation payments.