After public and labor backlash, Qantas Airways has abandoned plans to ask employees to volunteer to take unpaid shifts over the holiday travel season. The airline had requested that some office workers donate their time to assist passengers at self-service kiosks, bag drops and baggage claim, but the carrier quickly backed away from the plan after being ridiculed for the apparently Grinch-like behavior.
It’s possible that the powers that be at Qantas headquarters were visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, or maybe the CEO’s small heart grew three sizes – more likely the carrier’s public relations team simply responded to public outcry. In any case, Qantas Airways has backed away from plans to staff holiday shifts with unpaid employee volunteers.
Earlier this week, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Australian flag carrier made an about-face, saying that rather than asking administrative workers to volunteer free time to help out with frontline operations, it would only use the office workers in this capacity during their normal paid working hours. The move came in response to a number of uncomfortable headlines about the airline’s original request for free labor. Later in the week, after objections from labor unions, the airline took another step back and said those shifts would now be offered as overtime for frontline employees instead of being performed by the clerical staff.
“The intent of our volunteer program has always been for head office employees to spread a bit of Christmas cheer and spend more time with our customers and airport teams over the busy period,” an airline spokesman told the newspaper. “We recognize that some of the planned activity this year went further than previous years, so we have made some changes.”
According to an internal email obtained by the Herald, the jobs head office stated that employees being asked to perform on a volunteer basis were much less “spreading holiday cheer” and more working for free. Not exactly a call to sing Christmas carols or hand out hot chocolate, the volunteer shifts included duties such as manning self-service check-in kiosks, light baggage handling and manning seasonal customer service desks.
Following the public relations nightmare, the carrier said only senior executives would be tasked with offering additional support to frontline employees over the busy holiday travel period. The airline representative said the managers would be handing out free bottles of water for passengers and answering travelers’ questions and not performing duties normally handled by paid union workers.
“Our team at Sydney International Airport do a fantastic job supporting our customers and our executives are looking forward to supporting them over the Christmas period,” the spokesperson explained.