The Community and Public Sector Union, representing workers in the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, says understaffing has led to blowouts in processing times, passenger frustration, and unsafe working conditions at Australian airports.

Since borders have reopened, airport checks have increased to include confirmation of COVID vaccination status. But staffing has failed to keep up.

Home Affairs members working at Sydney airport, who continue to work to a COVID limited roster, have reported blowouts in processing times from 40 seconds to between 6-9 minutes per passenger.

The delays have led managers to deny breaks to officers working long shifts on processing lines, and workers skipping duty collections potentially worth millions of dollars.

At the same time, problems plaguing the Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD) are creating even more work, with members estimating up to 75% of passengers unable to properly complete the digital declaration, requiring manual processing by a Home Affairs officer.

Staffing issues are also creating major problems for the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) at airports. DAWE biosecurity officers working in arrival halls say there are major problems filling vacancies and a lack of staff available to cover workers on leave.

Officers report that it is not uncommon for 6-7 people to be absent at one time from a team of 15, leaving an insufficient number of workers processing hundreds of arrivals.

Again, this understaffing comes as workloads increase and there is a real impact on arrival checks, worker safety, and passenger delays.

CPSU members are reporting understaffing means time-consuming infringement notices are frequently not being issued to passengers caught with prohibited plant and animal products, which are instead seized and destroyed.

Quotes attributable to CPSU Deputy President, Brooke Muscat:

“Understaffing in critical government agencies is causing serious problems at our airports.

“Since the borders have reopened, airport workers are struggling with massive workloads without adequate staffing and support.

“The risks to worker safety are unacceptable. They’re working above and beyond their limits to make sure passenger and cargo checks are getting done, but it’s not sustainable or fair.

“We need these Departments to increase staffing and support to make sure workers, passengers, and our biosecurity are protected.”

Media Contact: Liz Bower 0408 405 121