Union fights Qantas suspension over virus

Ashlea Witoslawski

The Transport Workers' Union of NSW has written to SafeWork NSW to investigate Qantas' safety practices, after a staff member was stood down for allegedly causing anxiety about coronavirus.

The airline on February 1 announced it would suspend its two direct services to mainland China from February 9 due to travel restrictions imposed by other countries in the wake of the health crisis.

A Qantas employee - who is also a delegate of the TWU and served as a Health and Safety Representative for the airline - was stood down on February 2 pending an investigation.

A source has told AAP the worker told other employees it was not safe to work on flights arriving from China, going against the advice of health authorities.

TWU NSW state secretary Richard Olsen said Qantas is "engaging in prohibited behaviour" against the staff member under the Work Health and Safety Act.

"We already know that Qantas previously appeared to coerce workers into cleaning aircraft coming in from mainland China, issuing them letters threatening to terminate their employment if they refused to service those aircraft," Mr Olsen said in a statement on Thursday.

"If safety reps at Qantas can't stand up to unsafe work practices, then no worker is safe."

Qantas Medical's Dr Russell Brown said the airline would never ask employees to work in unsafe conditions.

"The TWU knows full well that the risk of aviation workers contracting coronavirus as a result of working on an aircraft originating from China is very low," Dr Brown said in a statement last week.

Dr Brown said additional protective measures were being put in place on flights from China to further reduce the risk of employees contracting coronavirus.