According to a baggage handler who works for the company that the carrier outsourced jobs to, up to one in 10 pieces of luggage are either getting misplaced or not being put onto Qantas domestic flights on a daily basis at Sydney Airport.
Separately, Guardian Australia can reveal that Swissport, one of the primary businesses Qantas has engaged to provide luggage handling services, was forced to hire two different labor hire agencies to fill the shifts that Qantas had contracted it to fill.
Attrition rates are rising rapidly among new employees who are scarred by chaotic scenes and poor conditions as the beleaguered sector struggles to cope with a return to pre-pandemic travel demand. Swissport is now offering a $50 daily bonus to baggage handlers at Sydney airport simply for reporting to their shifts for the remainder of the year.
While international and domestic carriers have long outsourced the provision of ground handling services away from their hubs to independent contractors, Qantas and its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar’s dominance in Australia has meant that the recent spike in lost luggage and its ranking as the airline with the worst on-time performance and cancellation rates in May have been significant contributors to the chaotic scenes at Australian airports this year.
Since its 2020 decision to outsource over 1,700 positions, Qantas has experienced a lack of baggage handlers. The airline is now attempting to appeal the top court’s ruling that the decision was unconstitutional and partially motivated by an anti-union attitude.
One Swissport baggage handler in Sydney expressed worries about the overworked, underpaid, and unable to handle the rise in baggage in recent months as domestic travel had skyrocketed in an interview with Guardian Australia. The employee asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.
“These days, there are around 10 barrows each day that just doesn’t make it on,” the employee claimed, referring to the roughly 100 barrows or trolleys that a typical baggage handler sees each day at the domestic airport in Sydney. Between 30 and 40 pieces of luggage fit in each barrow.
However, “there’s just still not enough of us there to get to all the bags,” they claimed, adding that at recent school holiday peaks, office managers from Qantas and Swissport had pulled up their sleeves and assisted handlers in moving luggage.
Qantas declined to provide its own statistics on how many baggages were recently mishandled at Sydney’s domestic terminal (lost or otherwise failed to board the correct flight), although a representative later stated that such claims were “completely inaccurate.”
“Claims that one in 10 bags have been mishandled are wrong,” they said. “The rate of mishandled baggage across the Qantas network over the past four weeks is less than one percent and our teams are working hard to get this figure down further.”
In order to address the gaps in its teams working on Qantas and Jetstar operations, Swissport recently hired labor hire companies Star Aviation and Workfast, the latter of which is not specified in the aviation industry. The manner in which luggage is loaded is determined by the kind of aircraft, and training and procedures vary based on the airline.