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United Workers Union, the security workers union, says that contractors servicing Australia’s major airports have dismissed requests from their workers to take protective measures against the coronavirus – choosing to put profits ahead of the safety of workers.

Airport staff, including officers stationed at security checkpoints and facility attendants, may have no choice but to stop work, after being told they are not allowed to wear protective gear because this will make customers feel “uncomfortable”. In some cases, workers who have made a request to wear a mask have been threatened with disciplinary action.

Access to basic hygiene, such as soap, has also been identified by security workers at Sydney Airport as a major cause for concern. The union says that contractor Certis Security Australia has so far failed to move on the issue.

United Workers Union spokesperson for Property Services Damien Davie said: “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.

“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.

“Airport staff are putting themselves at risk to make sure our 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.

“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.”