Whatever the rights or wrongs of the baggage handler stop work affecting Qantas at major airports on Monday, a union not involved in the dispute has blown the whistle on dangerous practices by the management staff that entered the tarmac in efforts to keep the airline running.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, AKA the “rude mechanics” in some quarters, saw Qantas executives, AKA the “goons”, using mobile phones near jets being refuelled, and driving ground equipment they weren’t licensed or trained to operate.

The baggage handlers belong to the TWU and are opposed to plans to outsource their jobs as well as raising allegations, which Qantas has denial in full, that airport security will be compromised by their being replaced.

The licensed mechanic or LAME who leaked his union’s memo to Crikey said: “I was told to p-ss off when I tried to tell several of them they risked setting fire to a pressurised refuelling process while yabbering into their mobiles under a wing.

“They could have burned down the jet, and a fair bit of the terminal. The contempt and ignorance of these (people) is alarming.

“And watching some of them try to drive the baggage carts and work out how to make the loading ramp work was bad, you can hit planes hard enough with those things to dent the panels and even rip holes in them.”

The notice from the licensed engineers association says, “ALAEA members challenged the strike-breakers and encountered stiff resistance and abuse from the managers who appeared to think that the rules of the tarmac did not apply to them.

“These managers are working in an unfamiliar environment and breaking rules that are there to keep your workplace safe.”

Similar complaints were made about management errors in handling jets during last year’s overtime bans by LAMEs, in a dispute that their union eventually won in a long drawn out confrontation with former Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon, but which cost the carrier loss of service reliability and reputation.

A Qantas spokesperson denied the claims and said the staff were fully trained and experienced in the procedures and safety rules.

He said that considering the difficulties posed by the sudden walk out the airline believed the contingency plans had been a success.

However, some affected passengers have complained in the media that they have been told they may not get their checked luggage until the end of this week.

See Crikey Blog Plane Talking with Ben Sandilands.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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