Qantas Asks Management To Work As Baggage Handlers

Qantas Asks Management To Work As Baggage Handlers

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Airlines around the globe are dealing with labor shortages, as they can’t keep up with the pace at which travel demand is recovering. A shortage of ground staff (including baggage handlers) seems to be among the most common issues. Australia’s largest airline is taking an interesting approach to tackling this issue…

Qantas looks for volunteers to work on the ramp

Qantas is asking management employees to work as baggage handlers. Specifically, the airline is looking for roughly 100 volunteers to work at airports in Melbourne (MEL) and Sydney (SYD). They’d work at airports for a three month period starting in mid-August, either three or five days a week, with shifts of four or six hours. Their tasks would primarily revolve around bags, including loading and unloading them, as well as driving vehicles that move the bags.

As Qantas Chief Operating Officer Colin Hughes explains, “the high levels of winter flu and a Covid spike across the community, coupled with the ongoing tight labour market, make resourcing a challenge across our industry.” It’s stated that “there is no expectation that [management employees] will opt into this role on top of [their] full-time position.”

A couple of things I’m not clear about:

  • Does Qantas really have 100 management employees to spare, especially during such a transitionary period? It seems to me like the head count at headquarters might be a bit bloated if there are this many employees to spare…
  • Would the employees who take on this role still receive their standard salary? If so, those are probably some high paid baggage handlers…
  • I know it’s stated that there’s no expectation that people would opt into this role on top of full-time positions, but does this mean that management employees would do this in lieu of their normal jobs, or split their time between corporate offices and the ramp?

While many news sources are suggesting that Qantas is asking “senior executives” to take this on, I doubt you’ll see Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (or other senior executives) fill these positions. Rather I suspect it’s mostly people in lower level administrative functions that would be chosen for this.

Expect some Qantas management employees to work on the ramp

Qantas isn’t the first airline to do something like this

While the concept might sound radical, Qantas isn’t the first airline to try to get employees (including management staff) to work at the airport. For example, in mid-2021, Delta asked employees to volunteer to help clean up Sky Clubs in Atlanta, as the airline was allegedly short around 115 contractors.

Also in mid-2021, American asked management employees to volunteer to work at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, to help travelers get around as they returned to the skies.

Obviously many airlines have been struggling with staffing in recent months, though what makes the Qantas situation unique is that the carrier takes a particular shrewd approach to labor relations. From pilots to flight attendants to ground handlers, Qantas hasn’t exactly acted in good faith in negotiations, but rather has cut costs wherever it can.

In the case of ground staff, the airline laid off over 1,600 Qantas ground handlers during the pandemic, replacing them with contract workers, in order to save costs in the long-run. So I doubt Qantas is getting much sympathy from other frontline workers on this after outsourcing roles, which is why the airline is presumably going to management staff to try to pick up the slack at the airport.

Qantas laid off 1,600+ ground handlers during the pandemic

Bottom line

Qantas is hoping to improve its operational performance by asking management employees to work on the ramp for a period of three months, helping with loading and unloading bags. This seems to me like an extreme measure, but then again, these are strange times.

I’m curious if the airline is able to find enough volunteers, and how exactly this works in terms of pay and the regular duties of managers.

What do you make of Qantas’ plan for improving the baggage situation?

Conversations (18)
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  1. seanpodge New Member

    "Shrewd" is certainly one way to describe Qantas' management of its workers. "Misanthropic" might be better, though. Under Joyce, QF never misses an opportunity to prove how little it values its workers. Whether it's sacking thousands after getting billions of government support payments or leaving customers stranded worldwide rather than negotiate in good faith with a union, nothing will be allowed to get in the way of Joyce and a massive bonus.

  2. Carrie Member

    As a lawyer, I would be concerned about the health and safety implications of this decision. I presume indemnities are at the ready.

    1. platy Guest

      @ Carrie

      Indeed.

      FWIW there are number of core competencies (attached below).

      Performance needs to comply with any CASA safety directives relevant to the operation.

      There would also be the need for security clearance (ASIC), if not already held by the staff member (or be under constant supervisiona s a registered visitor).

      There would also be a need for an Authority to Drive Airside (essentially a driver's licence to drive within the airport perimeter) at...

      @ Carrie

      Indeed.

      FWIW there are number of core competencies (attached below).

      Performance needs to comply with any CASA safety directives relevant to the operation.

      There would also be the need for security clearance (ASIC), if not already held by the staff member (or be under constant supervisiona s a registered visitor).

      There would also be a need for an Authority to Drive Airside (essentially a driver's licence to drive within the airport perimeter) at Category 2 level (permission to drive on airside roads and aprons) before being able to drive any vehicles.

      There would also be the need be competent at driving / operating the machinery (belts and tug, etc.) as may be required.

      There would also need to be safety training on the operation environment (ramp / apron safety and baggage make up area) - everything from safe operations in proximity to aircraft, to FOD, to fuel cutoff switches, etc etc.

      In short, it's hard to see how any manager unfamiliar with such operation could be anything, but a bl---dy nuisance!

      Core competencies:

      Baggage handling is conducted in accordance with equipment involved, operational priorities and requirements, and directions from supervisor or team leader

      1.2

      Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is selected, fitted and worn in accordance with established workplace procedures

      1.3

      Hazards are identified, risks are assessed and hazard management is implemented

      1.4

      Correct manual handling principles and techniques are applied at all times when handling various types, weight and shapes of baggage

      1.5

      Luggage tags are checked to identify any special loading characteristics

      1.6

      Baggage is lifted and manoeuvred in accordance with work health and safety (WHS)/occupational health and safety (OHS) and workplace procedures relevant to baggage tag indications

      1.7

      Baggage with unusual shape or perceived hazard is identified and appropriate assistance is sought from other team members to lift and move baggage concerned

      1.8

      Baggage is stacked on or in baggage storage or movement areas in accordance with WHS/OHS and workplace procedures

      1.9

      Late baggage is collected, handled and delivered to aircraft in accordance with workplace procedures

      2

      Deal with abnormal baggage handling situations

      2.1

      Baggage identified as heavy, fragile or having other unusual characteristics is handled in accordance with workplace procedures and regulatory requirements specified for type of baggage concerned

      2.2

      Baggage with an unintelligible or missing tag is identified and processed/reported in accordance with procedures for baggage handling system concerned

      2.3

      Baggage that has been damaged is identified and reported/processed in accordance with workplace procedures

      2.4

      Baggage identified as leaking unidentifiable or potentially hazardous/dangerous substances is isolated and reported in accordance with workplace procedures and regulatory requirements

      2.5

      Baggage suspected of being a potential security risk is immediately isolated and reported in accordance with workplace security requirements

      2.6

      Problems that may occur during baggage handling operations are identified and appropriate action is taken to rectify and/or report problems in accordance with workplace procedures and regulatory requirements

      2.7

      Safety hazards in baggage handling work area are identified and appropriate action is taken to minimise/eliminate risk in accordance with WHS/OHS procedures and workplace hazard control strategies

    2. glenn t Diamond

      If Qantas ( a big if) tried to recruit baggage handlers and ancillary ground positions as permanent employees on the Qantas payroll they would have no trouble filling them. The reason they lost all their ground people is that when the Government lagesse ran out they just sacked ( if that's the right word) them. Many found better paid jobs outside the aviation indusrtry and are not interested in returning. So Qantas is going to...

      If Qantas ( a big if) tried to recruit baggage handlers and ancillary ground positions as permanent employees on the Qantas payroll they would have no trouble filling them. The reason they lost all their ground people is that when the Government lagesse ran out they just sacked ( if that's the right word) them. Many found better paid jobs outside the aviation indusrtry and are not interested in returning. So Qantas is going to need a few fat carrots to dangle. A big ask for an airline known by many as the Queen of Mean!
      Wouldnt surprise me to see a photo op of Alan Joyce decked out in a hi-vis vest (small size) and hardhat slinging one or two bags on the conveyor belt for all of 15 seconds. Managerial brown-nosers would see an opportunity to score brownie points to assist their ladder climbing no doubt!

  3. JDubya Guest

    If anything this is a cooked up PR stunt saying Qantas cares. In the meantime passengers say if the plane is delayed or canceled and the baggage is lost the passengers say they have been ‘Joyced’. (Reference to Alan Joyce who is the CEO of Qantas).

  4. John Guest

    I don't know about work practice in America, but in Australia and N.Z. this 'all-hands-on-board' practice is not unusual in both business and gov't bodies. It's not an everyday occurrence, to be sure, but it's definitely not unusual in the Australian context, when the need arises. I personally recall seeing a Brisbane mayor and his councillors having to empty public rubbish bins during a sanitation workers' strike. And in business there have been examples of...

    I don't know about work practice in America, but in Australia and N.Z. this 'all-hands-on-board' practice is not unusual in both business and gov't bodies. It's not an everyday occurrence, to be sure, but it's definitely not unusual in the Australian context, when the need arises. I personally recall seeing a Brisbane mayor and his councillors having to empty public rubbish bins during a sanitation workers' strike. And in business there have been examples of 'bosses' manning shop floors, making deliveries etc etc, especially during COVID. It's really not THAT big a deal here in Oz. Now having said all that, I think Joyce is a mediocre manager in his handling of both staff and pax. His LCC outlook has degraded the customer experience to a point where many locals choose foreign airlines (i.e. SQ and EK) and company job tenure is precarious, even in good times.

  5. Duncan Guest

    Under Australian law QF illegally sacked their baggage handlers about 1500. They were then offered their positions back with reduced salary and perks, unfortunately for the management who thought this up less than 1100 took up this offer. It's still before the courts and what baggage handlers they have left are still departing quicker than they can be replaced. A bit to go yet.

  6. Lune Member

    This reeks of hubris. Just because a job doesn't require a college education doesn't mean it doesn't require skills and training.

    Placing someone from an office job on the tarmac of a busy airport is just asking for trouble, and will likely cause more operational delays from their mess-ups than they solve.

    Baggage handlers, ramp workers, etc. are all highly skilled workers. Does the CEO think you can take a ramp worker and have him...

    This reeks of hubris. Just because a job doesn't require a college education doesn't mean it doesn't require skills and training.

    Placing someone from an office job on the tarmac of a busy airport is just asking for trouble, and will likely cause more operational delays from their mess-ups than they solve.

    Baggage handlers, ramp workers, etc. are all highly skilled workers. Does the CEO think you can take a ramp worker and have him run the company after a couple days of orientation? No? Then why does he assume that some guy who's been behind a desk all his life can be efficient on the ramp with the same training?

    Whatever cost savings they think they're getting will be out the window the first time an inexperienced baggage driver rams an aircraft and causes several million dollars worth of damage.

    1. skimegheath Gold

      Actually there were some nasty comments the day before about the fitness levels of the execs to do this!

  7. globetrotter Guest

    Outsourcing and factories relocation overseas are not illegal. They are the bedrocks of capitalism to enlarge profits. When the economy tanks, the rank and file are first on the chopping block. Unions that agree to the layoffs in bad time should demand that when good time roars back, the executives and management must face cutbacks on bonuses, perks and pay increases while the rank and file will reap the benefits that they sacrifice in economic...

    Outsourcing and factories relocation overseas are not illegal. They are the bedrocks of capitalism to enlarge profits. When the economy tanks, the rank and file are first on the chopping block. Unions that agree to the layoffs in bad time should demand that when good time roars back, the executives and management must face cutbacks on bonuses, perks and pay increases while the rank and file will reap the benefits that they sacrifice in economic downturn. It is a fair trade-off between social equity and shareholders' greed. China has fifteen year plan and US has quarterly profit goals or election cycle's agendas. Is it any wonder who will reign supreme in our lifetime, say in three decades?

  8. Robert Guest

    Management roles exist all throughout a company, not just in the corp HQ building

  9. Icarus Guest

    Other European airlines are also doing this

  10. RF Guest

    Good, let them go sort luggage.

  11. JW Guest

    If anything leadership by example should be in play here, either Alan Joyce leads this movement physically himself or the board asks him to take a pay cut so that they can pay more to get contractors.

    1. skimegheath Gold

      TWU (union) posted a photo (and obvious smart comment) of him with baggage handlers yesterday. Not sure he was actually helping though.

  12. AJ Guest

    Glad that the illegal outsourcing of 2000 workers is working out well for Qantas.

  13. Sean M. Diamond

    If you have 100 managers that you can reassign to other duties, then you have 100 too many managers.

    1. Steven Elliott Guest

      Right on the money….. too heavy AT THE TOP

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Sean M. Diamond

If you have 100 managers that you can reassign to other duties, then you have 100 too many managers.

6
JW Guest

If anything leadership by example should be in play here, either Alan Joyce leads this movement physically himself or the board asks him to take a pay cut so that they can pay more to get contractors.

4
AJ Guest

Glad that the illegal outsourcing of 2000 workers is working out well for Qantas.

3
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