Qantas probed for suspending worker who raised COVID-19 concerns

The NSW workplace safety authority is investigating Qantas for suspending an employee who raised concerned about workers being exposed to the coronavirus when cleaning an aircraft that had returned from China.

Qantas stood down the cleaner, who is an elected health and safety representative, on February 2 after he advised colleagues it was unsafe to clean the jet arriving from Shanghai.

Qantas suspended the worker after he raised concerns about cleaning aircraft that had returned from China. Credit:AAP

The airline said this was "against the advice of health authorities and despite additional safety equipment being provided to employees".

SafeWork NSW confirmed on Thursday it was investigating Qantas for alleged discriminatory conduct against the health and safety representative. The regulator has written to the airline to inform it the investigation is underway.

The Transport Workers Union says the worker was vindicated three weeks after being stood down when SafeWork NSW issued Qantas with an improvement notice after finding it had inadequate practices in place to protect staff and passengers from coronavirus.

Safety inspectors saw Qantas cleaners wiping over multiple tray tables with the same cloth without using disinfectant, and handling used tissues, face masks and nappies without having to wear protective equipment.

A Qantas spokesman said the airline would cooperate with the investigation. The cleaner remains stood down, along with around 20,000 staff who are off work as Qantas grounds the majority of its aircraft.

“Qantas’s behaviour from the start of this pandemic has been outrageous," TWU NSW branch secretary Richard Olsen said.

"It has refused to listen to workers’ legitimate concerns and instead shut them down. If safety reps at Qantas can’t stand up to unsafe work practices, then no worker is safe."

Under section 104 of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act an employer cannot discriminate against a worker for raising safety concerns or carrying out their role as a health and safety representative.

The offence carries fines of up to $500,000 for a company and $100,000 for an individual.

Eleven Qantas baggage handlers working at Adelaide Airport and two of their family members have tested positive to coronavirus, the South Australian health authority said on Wednesday, forcing 100 other airport workers into isolation.

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