Aviation workers are warning airlines could struggle to rebound once capital city lockdowns end as ground crews are beginning to quit the industry.
The federal government is providing financial support to airline workers but most ground staff are employed by third-party businesses
Industry leaders fear it will take months to recover if skilled workers walk away from aviation
The government says it will consider expanding its industry support if needed
The federal government this month announced it would give struggling domestic airlines enough money to provide weekly payments of $750 to half of their workforce.
But the majority of the ground crew at Australian airports are employed by third-party companies, which are not part of the scheme.
Dale Hausler, a supervisor for Swissport, which employs all ground staff at Victoria’s Avalon Airport, says he and his colleagues “feel like the government is leaving us behind”.
Mr Hausler said he was one of only seven ground staff at the airport currently rostered to work, with more than 20 others stood down.
Mr Hausler says some colleagues have transferred to metropolitan airports hoping to find more secure work, but “everyone is having to weigh it up day-by-day”.
Valuable skills at risk
Ground crew work with airline staff during take-off and staff must complete regular training.
“We will handle everything from safety inspections prior to take-off, baggage, cargo, pushing the aircraft back when you taxi out, cleaning, and any other ad hoc requests that may come up from the airline,” Mr Hausler said.
Glenn Rutherford, chair of the Australian Aviation Ground Handling Industry Alliance, said the “safety-sensitive” industry could not afford to lose highly trained workers.
The Alliance represents the employers of about 9,800 of Australia’s 12,000 ground staff.
“It takes several months to recruit and train these people to the required standard to perform the work,” Mr Rutherford said.
Government flags further support
A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications said ground handlers employed directly by airlines would be eligible to receive the $750 weekly payments.
The spokeswoman says the support will “scale up if airlines’ network activity drops further”.
The government is also giving 13 businesses that provide ground services with funding for “mandatory training, certification and accreditation to ensure aviation support workers are ready to be stood up when aviation activity increases”.
The Government said it would “periodically review” its domestic airline support program “to ensure the program remains fit for purpose”.
Avalon Airport chief executive Justin Giddings said the exclusion of third-party ground staff appeared “a bit of an oversight”.
While the airport has not stood down any of its staff, it is likely to only be serviced with two flights a day from next week, if Melbourne’s lockdown ends, meaning third-party workers will likely remain stood down.