Donuts, carrier bags and gas coupons: companies offer sweeteners to lure workers to airport jobs

Cupcakes, donuts and $500 gas coupons were offered, as well as promises of free training. On Thursday, thousands of job seekers flocked to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport for a job fair, to hear about vacancies from baggage handling, catering, retail and security companies – as well as major airlines and government agencies such as Border Force and the Federal Police – were looking to fill.

Before Covid, the airport employed more than 30,000 people, but it is estimated that 15,000 jobs were lost during the pandemic, said Geoff Culbert, the airport’s CEO.

Culbert said that despite the promising turnout at the job fair, where more than 40 companies had set up booths, long queues and delays due to staff shortages will continue to plague the airport.

“I think any additional employee we can add at the airport will help with congestion, but the reality is these shortages are going to stick with us for a while,” he said.

“This is the tightest job market we’ve seen in 40 years. We have 5,000 jobs to fill and that will take time,” he said.

While many of those in attendance on Thursday were school leavers and the unemployed looking to enter the industry, with printed resumes in hand, a large proportion of those in attendance were people who worked in other industries hoping for a career switch, as well as former airline workers going during the pandemic.

Many were also those who lost their jobs as a result of vaccine mandates, with several maternity workers telling Guardian Australia that prospective workers asked if they should be vaccinated for the available positions.

Qantas, which faces a shortage of baggage handlers in past months as it tries to overturn a legal ruling it illegally outsourced nearly 1,700 ground workers had no booth at Thursday’s job fair.

However, Swissport, one of the companies that contracted Qantas and Jetstar for baggage handling, was one of the most popular stalls. One of the maternity staff said the company was desperate to increase the number of baggage handlers. She said they only took part-time contracts, but offered employees full-time hours under these contracts, at a rate of $23.41 per hour.

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The Border Force booth was flooded with interest in the 80 jobs at Sydney Airport† “I wasn’t expecting this at all, it’s insane,” said one ABF employee as they handed out one of their last remaining blue tote bags to a school leaver who had asked for a full-time job with a whopping $57,000 salary.

“I stood alone in line for the tote bag; I just nodded along to what he said,” the school leaver told The Guardian minutes later.

At the adjacent stall, Australian Federal Police were trying to fill “hopes and hopes” jobs, one of its staff said, while uniformed officers with machine guns answered questions from interested parties.

“It’s not just working at the airport,” said one of the staff, who claimed that officers could work in intelligence positions abroad after taking entry-level jobs at the airport. “If you want to work in intelligence in Washington, The Hague or Islamabad, you have to start here,” he said.

Meanwhile, flyers and work pamphlets lay in a pile, largely untouched, at a nearby taxi company stall.

Certis, which is contracting Sydney Airports to provide security screenings, is struggling to restore workforce to pre-Covid levels and had to offer staff incentives to show up for work in recent months.

However, their booth was one of the most popular at the job fair, with airline screening jobs offering $24.12 per hour plus a $1.70 allowance — a competitive salary compared to baggage handling and other manual positions.

Rex, a regional airline that has expanded to major city routes in recent months while also shutting down several regional services, has promoted pilots, flight attendants, engineers, ground handlers and customer service representatives. Private jet charter companies were also desperate for staff to meet increasing demand for their services, one employee said.

Huge crowd around the Australian Border Force stand
The Australian Border Force booth was flooded with interest in the 80 positions available. Photo: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Luxury retailer Burberry also tried to attract staff to the exchange, as well as eateries such as McDonald’s, Red Rooster and Sumo Salad.

One of the attendees at the job fair was Michael, a public transportation worker who lives nearby and refused to publish his last name for fear that his employer would realize he was looking for a new job.

“I’m not a big gun person, so the AFP stall kind of threw me away,” he said.

After scouring all the stalls, with a collection of tote bags under his arm, Michael was eager to apply for a job at Certis as a security researcher.

“I’m looking for a little change in life, and this sounds exciting, and because they’re so desperate, they’re accepting me part-time so I can study on the side.”

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