Qantas has asked its staff to do volunteer work for the company during the busy Christmas period.
In an email sent to workers at its "Campus" head office in Sydney this week, chief operating officer Rachel Yangoyan introduced a trial of a new "volunteer program" for administrative workers "who'd like to lend a hand to the frontline during December and January".
The program is set to run at Sydney International Terminal "over the Christmas peak travel period".
"If you volunteer outside of normal/rostered working hours, then the shift will be voluntary and unpaid," the memo describing the program said.
Qantas has since clarified that award-covered employees will be rostered during their existing shifts, and so will be paid. However, other staff – who make up a majority of head office – can volunteer to do a shift outside their normal working hours and will be unpaid.
The Australian Services Union (ASU) has slammed the program as "wage theft". Secretary of the ASU NSW & ACT Natalie Lang called it a "shocking display of corporate greed, from one of Australia's biggest companies" in a statement.
"This is not about cutting costs, this is about spreading a bit of Christmas cheer during a really busy period," a Qantas spokesman said in an emailed statement.
"It’s unfortunate that the ASU is trying to turn this into a negative. It's all hands on deck at this time of year and we’re really grateful that some head office staff are willing to lend a hand."
BuzzFeed News understands that the program has so far been popular.
Volunteers will perform activities like handing out water bottles and chocolates and answering customer queries in four-hour shifts, and that the program is being introduced because airports are usually full of people during the Christmas period.
"This is our members' work," said ASU assistant secretary Lauren Hutchins. "It may not be the most technical part of their job but they are still called upon to perform it any other day of the year. Qantas has assumed that the work of women at the airport is so low skilled that an untrained/unpaid volunteer could manage. I’d like to see Alan Joyce handle the passenger queue after an overbooking or the cancellation of QF11 to Los Angeles." Most of the customer service staff are women.
The Qantas spokesman said that the company always scales up with additional paid staff over the peak holiday period. "And we also ask head office employees if they’d like to lend a hand, which is a mix of their own time and company time.
"It’s typically our executives who volunteer, particularly because it’s a chance for them to spend more time on the frontline."
The ASU has also argued that the program puts the company in competition with charities that depend on volunteers over the Christmas period.
The ASU says it will probably take the issue to the Fair Work Commission, after Qantas refused its request to cease the program.