Ian Smith, TWU South Australian branch secretary, said Qantas’ guidance had “exposed other workers to the coronavirus”.
Workers received calls to alert them to the coronavirus cases at the airport, which were first diagnosed in a baggage handler in late March, the union said, but they were not told to stay home.
“Others went on to contract the virus and no doubt spread it to even more staff and their families,” Mr Smith said. The union is seeking a full investigation of Qantas’ management of the outbreak from workplace regulators.
The Qantas spokesman said the union was “misrepresenting the situation”. “If employees were not required to self-isolate by SA Health then they have continued to work as usual,” the spokesman said. “They were reminded not to come to work if they were feeling unwell and to follow the advice of SA Health.”
The airline cluster stood at 34 on Monday, including three Qantas staff who are not baggage handlers.
South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said those cases indicated a spread to other areas of the airline’s operations.
There are concerns for people who worked as airport duty managers, pilot and cabin crew managers and for people who used the airline’s back-of-house areas at Adelaide Airport.
“For this reason, we’ll be requesting approximately 750 Qantas staff who have worked in those three areas since the 18th of March to self-isolate and be in quarantine immediately,” Professor Spurrier said on Sunday.
In an internal briefing to Qantas staff in early April, Qantas medical officer Dr Russell Brown said some of SA Health’s advice about coronavirus had been “a bit disappointing” because the medical authority had said those who received baggage from Adelaide should wipe it down.
SA Health said its advice to Qantas was based on the information it received at the time.
“Once we received more information and saw more confirmed cases from other staff areas, we expanded our scope,” a spokeswoman said.
The authority has not identified any public areas at the airport that have been affected by the coronavirus but have still advised anyone who has been there and develops symptoms to get tested.
Qantas will pay staff who have fallen ill despite standing down about 20,000 of its workers.
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.