Australian Airlines Qantas Pulled Up In Row Over Covid-19 Cleaning Risks

Strong measures are being taken against Australian airline Qantas as a part of a row over the duties of plane cleaners which happened in early 2020. The airlines ordered a cleaner to stop working following the employee’s opposition of the cleaning practices on aircraft that were arriving from China.

Qantas was accused by the watchdog SafeWork NSW of having engaged in discriminatory conduct by halting the wages of the worker who raised concerns about employees being exposed to the danger of contacting Covid-19.

Qantas has however said that it was investigating the clearer in question for “attempting to incite unprotected industrial action”.

The prosecution was termed by a union as a “landmark for work health and safety”.

At the time of the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic, the worker in question Theo Seremetidis, was an elected health and safety representative at the airline.

The safety precautions at Qantas were inadequate, he said last week at an Australian Senate inquiry. “We were directed to clean planes with just water. No sanitiser for the trays, no sanitiser for anything,” he said.

“PPE was not mandated despite managers wearing HAZMAT suits. We were not even provided masks or disinfectant. These safety issues exposed workers in Australia, and more broadly, to serious risks of contracting and spreading Covid,” he added.

“I was really passionate about safety, and wanted to see my fellow workers go home safely each day,” he said.

The management at the airlines turned a deaf ear to the concerns raised, Seremetidis alleged, and ultimately he decided to order a group of workers to stop working.

“On the day that this occurred, I was stood down immediately. The day I was stood down was my last day at Qantas.”

The airline is being prosecuted by the workers safety regulator SafeWork NSW over charges that the company was engaged in discriminatory conduct.

“As the matter is before the court, no further information can be provided at this time,” a SafeWork spokesman said.

“The prosecution is the first of its kind anywhere in Australia. Qantas stood Theo down simply for trying to protect himself and his colleagues from Covid, and now the company is rightly facing criminal charges for doing so,” said Richard Olsen from the Transport Workers Union, which lodged the complaint.

Qantas however said that the correct protocol for the industrial action he had taken had not been followed by Seremetidis.

“There are established, legal mechanisms for health and safety representatives to follow if they have concerns. Qantas supports and encourages our employees to utilise these mechanisms if they have safety concerns. It’s worth noting that there was not a single positive Covid case carried on our flights back from China,” the airline said.

(Adapted from


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