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Qantas In Hot Water After Asking Employees To Work Voluntary And Unpaid Shifts

It's only fitting that Qantas has a kangaroo as its logo, given that its workforce is hopping mad these days. The anger from the rank and file of Australia's best-known airline stems from a leaked memo earlier this week about a trial volunteer initiative set to launch during the holiday season.

The plan calls for the airline to recruit volunteers to help employees working at the Sydney International Terminal in such areas as transfer desks, the arrivals hall, bussing gates, baggage drop areas, and the self-service check-in spots. The frontline volunteer program is designed to help take a load off otherwise overwhelmed Qantas staff to ensure service continues without delay given the high level of traffic expected later in December.

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But disgruntled workers, including members of the New South Wales division of the Australian Services Union, claim it's a way for Qantas to eliminate any opportunities to grant overtime to improve the bottom line. Volunteers are to come from regular staff and will be asked to do a four-hour shift outside their normally scheduled hours. They'll only get paid if there's an overlap between their volunteer and normal working time blocs.

Twitter was ablaze with a fiery reaction to the Qantas plan, which one executive said was designed to add a bit more Christmas cheer to an otherwise hectic time of the year. If that was the case, the Australian Services Union compared the initiative to something the Grinch would undertake. Using the hashtag #changetherules, the union also referred to the plan as yet another sign of corporate greed, considering the CEO of Qantas makes roughly $25 million annually. Another angry employee challenged the legality of such a measure by the company, citing it as another example of wage theft.

In response, Qantas higher-ups pointed out that most executives show up at the terminal to lend a hand for free (even though executives are salaried, and not paid by the hour). The gesture, said one proponent, is one that executives take part in eagerly, even though it eats into their personal time. Besides handling the luggage and paperwork at the Sydney terminal, they also freely hand out Christmas chocolates and bottled water to passengers as a way to accentuate the best of the Holiday season.

But given the workforce calling the Qantas holiday plan a humbug labor cost reduction ploy, the airline isn't exactly going to have many workers cheering in their favor.

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