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Aviation regulator clears Aerocare of union allegations

Australia’s peak aviation regulator, the Australian Civil Aviation Authority (CASA), has cleared ground baggage operator, Aerocare, of safety and security breaches alleged by the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

The CASA investigation followed two ABC 7:30 programs broadcast in March and April this year, in which the TWU claimed Aerocare workers were forced to ‘sleep rough’ at airports, owing to split shifts, along with supposedly poor industrial practices.

Following the broadcasts, CASA ran a ‘surveillance report’ on Aerocare from 5 June to 23 August, to establish whether the TWU claims were true. This involved investigators arriving unannounced at Aerocare facilities across Australia, including Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth and Sydney airports.

In its report, CASA found:
“Based on the activities observed and the records sampled relating to operations during the surveillance period, the original complaints and accusations on fatigue management, safety reporting, use of untrained personnel, and document altering were unable to be substantiated in any systematic manner.”

The Transport Workers Union conceded that it had provided the material for the stories, which came at a critical juncture in the company’s negotiations with the TWU over the next Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) affecting its over 2,000 Australian staff.

Aerocare CEO Glenn Rutherford said the CASA findings completely vindicated the company’s exemplary safety and security standards.

“The Australian aviation sector is amongst the safest in the world and Aerocare is a leading reason why,” he said.

“CASA’s findings support the enormous and consistent efforts Aerocare has made to make it one of the safest aviation service providers in Australasia, noting that our injury rate is a staggering one-tenth of the industry average.

“Aerocare is the only Australian-owned baggage handler certified to the highest global standard of operations, safety and security.

“In 25 years of operation, and in handling more than one million flights, the Company has never seen a single penalty across safety, security or workplace safety. This is unique for an operation of this scale.

“Aerocare is proud of its track record and continues to invest in systems and processes that drive industry-leading outcomes across safety and security for all stakeholders, including employees and members of the travelling public.”

“Unfortunately, the TWU is attempting to punish Aerocare’s workers because fewer than 5% of them choose to belong to the union. Their campaign of misinformation should be seen for what it is.

“They are trying to hurt a proud Australian company that has tripled the size of its workforce in the last three years alone, from about 1,000 to 3,000 employees.”

“Ironically, Aerocare pays staff above the industry Award, and its existing industrial agreement leaves workers on average $9,000 a year better off than the union-supported Award.”

Aerocare currently services 3,200 flights per week and 41,200 passengers per day, and operates out of 33 ports with the nearest competitor operating at 11 ports.

On 13 October, Aerocare’s operations were expanded further after winning the open tender for Virgin Australia’s entire New Zealand operations based upon its ‘excellent service and safety record’.

Virgin Australia General Manager Ground Experience, Roger Lindeman, said at the time that “Aerocare has been a partner of Virgin Australia since our very first flight”.

“Aerocare was chosen after a rigorous selection process which found the company continues to meet Virgin Australia’s very high standards for safety, compliance whilst delivering the exceptional service for which Virgin Australia is renowned,” Mr Lindeman said.

“Aerocare is the largest ground handler in the Australian and New Zealand region, and Virgin Australia chose them for their excellent service and safety record.”

Jetstar Head of Ground Operations, Todd Chapman, congratulated Aerocare on the results of the CASA audits.

“This feedback is a just outcome for the hard work and professionalism demonstrated by all Aerocare personnel,” he said.

“The continuous focus on compliance, leading to safety, as well as delivering great customer service underpins why Aerocare is a respected partner and provider to Jetstar.“

About Aerocare
Aerocare is one of 28 baggage handling companies operating in Australia. Established in 1992, the company is now the largest independent aviation services provider in the Australasian region, servicing 33 Australian and NZ airports.

The current CEO started his career with Aerocare in 1994 as a baggage handler was formerly a TWU delegate.

In addition to Qantas and Virgin’s heavily-unionised internal workforces, the business mainly competes with giant multi-national ground handlers such as Emirates-owned dnata and UK plc Menzies.

Security standards:

  • Aerocare is the only major independent national baggage handler that insists its workers be certified by airport authorities prior to their beginning employment, whereas key competitors certify their workers themselves. Aerocare has always chosen this approach despite it taking longer.
  • Aerocare is unique among large-scale baggage handling companies in that it does not subcontract its work to labour hire organisations.
  • It is the only Australian-owned baggage handler certified to the highest global standard of operations, safety and security – IATA’s Safety Audit for Ground Operations accreditation.
  • In 25 years of operation, and in handling more than one million flights, there has never been a single penalty across safety, security or workplace safety. This is unique for an operation of this scale.

Workplace relations:

  • Aerocare has been leading the industry in moving away from casual workers towards permanent staff.
  • Aerocare is a leader in permanent conversion for domestic contracts.
  • In the last three years, every casual worker (whether operating at a domestic or international facility) has been offered the security of permanent work, resulting in the percentage of permanent employees rising to around 90%. This has come as the size of the workforce has tripled from about 1,000 employees to over 3,000.
  • Uniquely for a business of its size, Aerocare also does not rely on third party labour hire – all of its staff are subject to stringent security checks and industry-leading training programs.

Safety:

  • Aerocare is arguably the safest baggage hander in Australia, with one tenth the injury rate of its competitors.
  • Safe Work Australia statistics for 2017/17 shows the average days lost in the aviation industry to injury, per million hours worked, is 10.5. This compares to a lost time rate at Aerocare of only 0.9 – a staggering 90% less.
  • Aerocare is therefore the industry benchmark for safety.

Media enquiries: Apollo Communications, Adam Connolly, 0417 170 084

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