Staff at one of Australia’s busiest airports have been setting up camp and sleeping at work, which they say is because they cannot afford to go home between shifts.
Secret footage obtained exclusively by 7.30 revealed bed rolls and dirty sheets next to the baggage carousel in the staff-only area of Sydney Airport’s international terminal.
Napping between shifts is a result of the “Americanisation” of the Australian workforce, according to the Transport Workers Union (TWU).
Split shifts that start early and finish late and limited guaranteed hours mean it is not worth workers’ while — financially or timewise — to return home when they are rostered off, according to the union.
Workers have voiced concerns that fatigue levels are putting safety at risk.
‘We end up sleeping under the terminal’
Driver George Orsaris believes he will lose his job for speaking with 7.30, but wants to expose working conditions at his employer, Aerocare.
“We get pushed to our limits. Our pay doesn’t match it. We don’t get rest breaks and we get given a four-hour shift in the morning and then we have a four-or-five-hour break and get a four-hour shift in the afternoon,” he said.
“It is barely enough time to sleep by the time you get home, get up and have to go to work again. So we end up sleeping under the terminal where all the baggage goes between.”
Most of Aerocare’s workers are permanent, part-time with a guaranteed minimum salary of about $16,000 per year under a collective agreement approved by Fair Work in 2012.
TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said the company sought to “game the system” in the pursuit of profits by keeping workers “hungry” for shifts, despite the long breaks in between.
“Quite clearly, these agreements are deficient, they are unethical,” he said.
“When you are getting paid below the poverty line, when you can’t raise a family on these incomes and the company clearly knows that having them part-time is starving the workforce into submission.
Workers raise safety concerns
Aerocare workers have told 7.30 they were concerned fatigue had contributed to two safety incidents.
In November 2014 in Brisbane, a Tiger Air cargo door was left open but discovered before take-off. Mr Orsaris said lives could have been at risk.
“If it was missed and the plane was to take off down the runway, I’d hate to think what would happen,” Mr Orsaris said.
Aerocare said the safety of crew, passengers and ground staff was never at risk.
The company’s chief executive, Glenn Rutherford, said in a statement he was concerned about “any allegations of system deficiency” and would further investigate any claims.
“We want to ensure it is on record that in 22 years, and despite handling over a million flights, Aerocare has never been penalised for a safety issue,” he said.