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Unions fight Qantas drug-test plan

July 11 2003

Ten unions have joined forces to oppose Qantas' plan to introduce random drug and alcohol testing of its 35,000 employees.

The unions, representing all Qantas workers apart from pilots, were galvanised into their joint campaign by a planned trial of the urine and breath testing program in Sydney in two months time.

The Qantas unions said the tests, designed to detect a range of prescription medications as well as alcohol and illegal drugs, were unwarranted and a gross invasion of workers' privacy.

The Australian Services Union (ASU), which represents the largest section of Qantas employees, said the airline had not provided any evidence there was a drug and alcohol problem within their workforce.

ASU assistant national secretary Linda White said the airline had also failed to explain why it wanted to undertake such a costly testing regime, with the scientific analysis of the urine costing $57 per test.

"Each test will probably cost three or four times that," Ms White said.

"We understand they plan to conduct 1,500 tests a year."

In a bulletin to Qantas members, the 10 unions said they did not believe the testing policy would be random, effective or fair.

The unions said they had put forward an alternative to Qantas' proposed testing regime that included non-intrusive impairment testing.

"Random testing will do nothing more than drive the problem underground," the bulletin said.

"We have no confidence that the tests will be random and less confidence that such a policy is effective or fair."

Ms White said if Qantas, Australia's third largest private employer, did introduce the random testing regime it would set a frightening precedent for other employers.

"This would become the norm," she said.

"It would mean that occupational health and safety, instead of being a cooperative thing, would be ruled by fear."

Australian Workers Union national president Bill Shorten said Qantas was "having a witchhunt without proving the existence of witches".

"We don't believe there's any place at work for those impaired by drugs or alcohol but we feel that random testing is unfair and a gross infringement of privacy," Mr Shorten said.

Comment has been sought from Qantas.