Australian airline Qantas has faced backlash after it suspended an employee who refused to clean a flight over fears of contracting coronavirus. The cleaner, who refused to board the plane from Beijing, was ‘stood down’ by the airline without pay, pending an investigation into his conduct. The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), of which the employee is a member, advised that he is unable to enter the workplace or attend meetings, and that he has not been issued with formal allegations. On 31 January 2020, Qantas issued a letter to the employee reminding him that the risk of contracting the virus was ‘negligible’. ‘In these circumstances, and with the information available to you, you cannot reasonably be concerned that working on aircraft originating from China would expose you to a serious risk to your health or safety or that there is a risk of immediate or imminent exposure to Coronavirus,’ the letter read. Qantas medical spokesperson Russell Brown said that the airline ‘would never ask [its] 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. I briefed them on the situation last week,’ Brown added. The Transport Workers Union has called on the airline to ‘immediately reinstate the worker.’ ‘We are very concerned that airport workers on the frontline of this virus outbreak are being threatened, intimidated and stood down from their jobs rather than being supported and given all the protections they need,’ said TWU NSW branch secretary Richard Olsen. Now was not a time for what Olsen called ‘bullying workplace tactics.’ ‘Cabin crew, airlines cleaners, caterers, baggage and ramp workers and airport security personnel at the frontline have the right to go to work, be safe and return to their families afterwards without concerns that they are spreading a deadly virus,’ Olsen said. According to TWU, workers have raised concerns about an inconsistent approach to protections, namely that gloves, masks and hand sanitisers are not being provided by all companies. While these protections are provided for in flights from China, they are not being provided to those servicing other flights, TWU said.
Parents of premature babies have welcomed the news that the Federal Government will extend parental leave entitlements. Under the current legislation, parents of babies born prematurely often exhaust their leave entitlements before their children leave hospital. This places extreme pressure on the parents and their children. Attorney-General Christian Porter said that ‘[p]arents have told us how frustrated they felt by having to use up large amounts of their leave while their little one was in hospital, instead of being able to put it on hold until they needed it.’ ‘The [proposed] changes will give parents that flexibility and ensure they will get to spend quality time at home with their child when they leave hospital,’ the Attorney-General said. The Federal Government said parents would be allowed to use up to 30 days (six weeks) of their 12-month unpaid leave entitlement flexibly up to the child’s second birthday.
During this time, they would also be able to choose to claim part of their 18-week paid leave entitlement.
The Government announced that its proposed legislation would also include 12 months’ unpaid leave for parents of stillborn children. ‘The Government understands how devastating losing a child can be and recognises that the current entitlement to just six weeks of guaranteed unpaid parental leave is insufficient for many parents who need more time before they return to work,’ Mr Porter said.