Qantas is defending its decision to ask staff to volunteer over the busy Christmas period, despite coming under intense criticism by workers and unions.
The airline has been accused of “corporate greed” and CEO Alan Joyce has been labelled a “Christmas grinch” over the proposal.
What the airline is asking staff to do
An email to head office staff asked for volunteers to help out at the airport over Christmas.
According to the airline, they will perform tasks such as handing out bottles of water and Christmas chocolates to passengers, and help people find their way around the terminal.
“To support our airport teams at [Sydney] over the 2018 peak Christmas travel period, we’re trialling a new volunteer program for our Campus-based people who’d like to lend a hand to the frontline in December and January.
“We require volunteers to assist at the self-service check-ins and auto bag drop area, bussing gates, concourse arrivals hall and at the transfer desk.
“The roles allocated to volunteers will depend on their preferences, skill set and security requirements.”
What the unions are saying
Natalie Lang, New South Wales secretary of the Australian Services Union, was scathing.
“Qantas posted over $1.6 billion in profit this year, it’s charging Christmas rates to passengers, and has the audacity to ask its lowest paid workers to work for free at Christmas. It’s a Grinch act of the highest order,” she said.
“Let’s be clear, this isn’t volunteering. This is wage theft. But workers are being asked to choose between ‘volunteering’ for their employer or their local charity.”
Is it legal?
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Industrial Relations Claims, says the controversy has been overblown, and rejects the charaterisation that it is “wage theft at Christmas”.
“Look, this is all a bit of a storm in a tea cup – if it’s what the airline says that it is, then I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” he said.
“This involves head office staff and senior management who probably are not covered by awards.
“As long as they’re not being pressured or leaned on to volunteer, then I don’t think it’s a problem.
“The only issue I can see is if these volunteers are going to be doing tasks that a paid employee would normally do.
“Then we have a situation where workers would be missing out on extra shifts, or overtime, and then I think they have a right to be angry.”
Can Qantas afford to pay its staff?
In a statement, Qantas denied that the program was aimed at cutting costs, saying that it was about “spreading a bit of Christmas cheer during a really busy period”.
“We always scale up with additional paid staff over the peak holiday period. And we also asked head office employees if they’d like to lend a hand.”
Business journalist Michael West from michaelwest.com.au tweeted some interesting figures:
In 2018, Qantas made a profit of $1.6 billion, while it’s CEO Alan Joyce was paid $10.5 million.
In that same time, Qantas boasted that it paid just $3 million in company tax, (less than one third of Joyce’s salary).
It has used most of its profits to buy back shares, and earlier this year, it famously offered a bonus to staff, but only on the condition that they sign a new Enterprise Agreement.
READ MORE: Unpaid work – volunteering
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