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Airport staff concerns ‘dismissed’ amid coronavirus epidemic

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Airport workers have voiced fears at an alleged lack of protective gear or comprehensive safety plans across some major airports in Australia amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

Airport workers have voiced fears at an alleged lack of protective gear or comprehensive safety plans across some major airports in Australia amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

More than 213 people have died from the respiratory illness, with 9,600 confirmed cases of the infection in China alone.

Nine people have been diagnosed with the deadly disease in Australia, however all are stable.

Four people in New South Wales, three in Victoria and two in Queensland have been treated since the outbreak spread to Australia.

WA Health is investigating two possible cases of the illness.

Australia's leading transport union says they are dealing with a number of concerns from airport workers across multiple states frightened by the risks of contracting the virus and who say they've received little instruction on how to handle the situation should it escalate.

The TWU is in contact with several airlines, airports and servicing companies to request details regarding what procedures are in place to protect staff and the general public from the risk of infection.

They are also in negotiations to understand how staff members involved in the evacuation of infections persons to Christmas Island will be protected.

The United Workers Union (UWU) has also reported major airports, including Sydney and Canberra, "dismissing requests" from workers to take protective measures to security workers.

UWU security workers and facility attendants say they have been told wearing protective gear may make customers feel "uncomfortable" and say that as a result, workers "may have no choice but to stop work" if the issue isn't resolved.

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"It is appalling and dangerous that the safety of airport staff is not being prioritised because employers are worried about spooking customers. The safety of our members and the public must always come first," UWU spokesperson for Property Services Damien Davie said.

"The coronavirus is a life-threatening disease. The World Health Organisation has declared it a global health emergency. To threaten disciplinary action for a request to wear a mask is not only irresponsible but immoral."

Mr Davie said airport staff are putting themselves at risk to make sure the airports can stay open.

"It's public knowledge that a coronavirus patient has travelled on a domestic flight in Australia. Employers need to recognise this by providing all staff with the protective gear they need to do their jobs with minimal risk to their well-being," he said.

"If the health and safety needs of these workers are not met, United Workers Union will direct members to cease work even if it means grounding every flight in the country. We will not stand by while our members are exposed to this hideous virus due to penny pinching by airport security operators."

A representative from Sydney Airport said they are working with their contractors and monitoring the situation.

"Our security and cleaning contractors have confirmed that they are following closely the advice from health authorities," they said.

"Additionally, they have made personal protective equipment like face masks and hand sanitiser available to any employee who wishes to use them."

Canberra airport has also been contacted for comment.

The TWU is calling for the immediate suspension of all incoming flights from China to Australian to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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"Suspending flights originating from China may appear to be a drastic measure. But the consequence of inaction could be even more drastic," TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.

"We need national leadership now.

"Air travel is the most efficient means for the virus to spread, and already has been integral to the spread of the virus to at least 18 other countries around the world."

Source: 9News

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