'Fix this mess': Warning over 'gaping hole' in Australia's Covid defence

·News Reporter
·3-min read

Union bosses have hit out at the federal government over its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, claiming it has neglected frontline workers in the aviation industry.

A survey conducted by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) and the Virgin Independent Pilots Association (VIPA) showed only one in two workers in the industry were vaccinated.

The survey of nearly 800 cabin crew, pilots, cleaners, baggage handlers and ground workers across airlines and aviation companies shows only about one third of aviation workers have had both vaccine shots while 22 per cent have had one shot.

Workers have expressed their concerns over the availability of appointments and support in taking the jab, including paid leave to do so.

Three Qantas planes behind a fence.
Aviation workers feel more can be done to support them during the vaccine rollout. Source: Getty Images

“This survey should ring alarm bells that there is a gaping hole in our fight to reduce the risk of Covid spread because only half of the people working in our airports, one of the most at-risk locations, have been vaccinated," TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.

According to the TWU, 72 per cent of cabin crew fear flying to hotspots and workers are concerned of the risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to their families, while losing pay if forced to self-isolate.

One Sydney-based flight attendant told Yahoo News Australia current leave allowances for staff was "not good enough" with illness from the jab in the following days not taken into consideration.

She said staff had been given links to apply for vaccine appointments at general public vaccine sites and workers were "not having their hand held throughout the process". 

A health worker getting the Covid vaccine.
Australia's Covid-19 vaccine rollout has faced several challenging hurdles. Source: Getty Images

Another said they spent more than four hours of their own time during a working day to get one of their jabs, calling the experience "unbelievably exhausting".

The TWU and VIPA are calling on the federal government to prioritise aviation industry workers in the vaccine rollout, while providing a financial support similar to what is on offer for aged-care workers.

The industry has been brought to its knees during the pandemic with huge financial losses for airlines while the federal government's strict border closures are likely to be in play for longer than expected due to the bungled vaccine rollout.

"They want to get back up and flying but with the botched vaccine rollout and failure to prioritise aviation workers, lockdowns continue and the risk remains high," VIPA President John Lyons said.

"Workers are telling us they want more information, time off work to get vaccinated so that it won’t conflict with roster changes, and assurances that they will be paid their usual wage if they get ill or are forced to self-isolate. 

"The Federal Government needs to step up to fix the mess it has created for aviation workers.”

Yahoo News Australia has contacted the Department of Health regarding the survey and Mr Kaine's remarks.

Dr Giuseppe Carabetta, Senior Lecturer in Employment Law at the University of Sydney, explained for The Conversation he believed the government would eventually step in and mandate vaccines in the industry – a move that was rolled out for aged care workers earlier last month.

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