The mother of a former Qantas Indigenous trainee has raised concerns the company may be using young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers for cheap labour without the promise of ongoing employment.
Wiradjuri woman Peta-Joy Williams said her son, Baylun, was recruited by non-profit organisation Maxima for a Sydney-based Qantas traineeship in administration and corporate services in 2016.
He initially worked one school day per week at the airline during Year 11, before accepting an offer to increase to two days per week in Year 12 following positive feedback from his supervisors.
"That meant that he wouldn’t be able to sit his HSC exam, and he opted to do that because it’s money in the pocket and it’s more experience," Ms Williams told NITV News.
"In his head, the promise of having a full-time position when he finished high school - he didn’t need to do the HSC.
“He’d basically been told many times by many different people that there was going to be a job at the end of this.”
Baylun was nominated for Indigenous trainee of the year, but at the end of the two-year traineeship he was told there was no full-time position available.
He was offered a casual contract in another area - baggage claim - or another traineeship with HSBC, but without the guarantee of full-time work. Baylun declined the offer.
"At first I was a little bit disappointed," said the 18-year-old, who is now studying to be an apprentice electrician.
“I was expecting a job at the end of it.
"[If I'd known] I probably would’ve just planned to move into a different career path... I’m doing an electrical pathway at the moment, so I could’ve started that a bit earlier."
Peta-Joy Williams said several of Baylun's fellow trainees have had similar experiences.
Another Indigenous trainee, Kade Russell, completed the program in the baggage services department in 2018.
He was told a full-time position would be available if he was able to obtain his driver's licence, but four days before he got his licence, Qantas advised there was no longer a job available.
"It felt horrible – I didn’t expect it," he said.
The 18-year-old said Maxima had promised ongoing work at the end of the traineeship.
“They said it’d be a guaranteed job if we went well," he told NITV News.
Qantas said almost half of last year's cohort of school-based Indigenous trainees were offered a role at Qantas or another employer.
Traineeships offer 'significant benefits'
A Qantas spokesman declined to comment on individual cases, but said the company was proud of the traineeship program.
"Providing students with a paid traineeship while they’re still studying, gives them a great start in finding a job and helps increase overall Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in the workforce," they said in a statement.
"Qantas and Maxima Group, which facilitates the training, make it clear to all students that we don’t guarantee students a job at Qantas at the end of their traineeship.
"While some graduates will be offered a role where one is available, others take different paths including employment with other companies or tertiary education."
Qantas has pledged to increase Indigenous employment and staff retention as part of its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
"We acknowledge the need to gain better traction in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment within our organisation," the plan reads.
"Our RAP employment targets have been significantly impacted in recent years due to the numerous challenges the business has faced, ranging from business structural changes to operational turnover... It is a focus of the organisation to increase the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in our business."
A spokesman for Maxima said the organisation "completely rejects the suggestion that the school based traineeships we are involved in are exploitative or a form of cheap labour".
"Our staff would never guarantee full-time work after the traineeship – we are offering work for the duration of the traineeship and are never in a position to guarantee what might happen after that," they said.
"In many cases school based traineeships do lead to ongoing work with the ‘host’ employers (eg. Qantas), but in other cases either the student chooses a different career path or the employer decides not to offer ongoing employment based on the student’s performance during the traineeship and/or the employer’s lack of vacancies at the time.
"We are firmly of the view that even where the traineeship does not lead to ongoing employment there are significant benefits to the young people involved, such as the development of real world work experience and ‘employability’ skills."
But Ms Williams said traineeships targeting Indigenous students must include the option of full-time work opportunities for high performers.
"If there’s no work for them at the end of it, and they’ve given up their opportunity for further study, then that’s not helping them – that’s not helping anyone," she said.
“What is the point of doing a traineeship if there is no work at the end of it? And the skill sets that Baylun was working in were specifically for that role – it’s not like they're transferable skills."
Qantas is currently advertising for a new intake of Indigenous trainees.