The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) has taken legal action against Qantas today over plans to outsource 2,500 ground handling jobs, as the airline’s workers gather in Canberra to demand action from the federal government.
In a press conference on the front lawn of Parliament House that heard from Qantas workers, ALP MPs Tanya Plibersek, Matt Thistlethwaite, and Senator Tony Sheldon, the TWU said the first tranche of legal action against Qantas was filed in the Fair Work Commission this morning.
The filing centres on what TWU alleges is Qantas’ failure to consult with workers on its plan to axe their jobs, and over a tendering process which, the TWU again alleged, has been designed to make it impossible for the 2,420 ground operations workers across Qantas and Jetstar who face loss of employment from bidding for their jobs.
It comes after a Qantas presentation for employee representatives, obtained and reported on by The Australian Financial Review on Monday, revealed the workers had been given six weeks to pull together a bid to keep their jobs and find a way to save $100 million a year in staffing costs.
According to AFR, workers would also be required to find a way to save another $80 million that Qantas would require to upgrade in-house equipment over the next five years.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the legal action was necessary as Qantas was “violating workers’ rights”, and came alongside protests by the union’s Northern Territory-arm at Darwin Airport.
“Qantas has torn up the agreements and the rulebook on how to act like a responsible corporate entity and has turned on its own workforce and the taxpayers,” he said.
“Our legal and political action today are aimed at bringing about some fairness at a company acting out of control.
“For 100 years Qantas baggage handlers, drivers, ramp workers and cleaners have carried out this work and now during the year of its centenary, the airline wants to kill these jobs altogether.
“We are appealing to the Qantas board and the federal government to stand up against the attempt to drag down standards at the national airline.
“Scott Morrison has a simple choice: he can either stand with Qantas workers and the taxpayer or he can support Alan Joyce and his spiteful management team.”
Qantas said it would vigorously defend the union’s claims in the Fair Work Commission.
“Once again, the TWU is misrepresenting the situation and misleading its members,” a Qantas spokesperson told Travel Weekly.
“COVID and border closures blew a $4 billion hole in our revenue last year, which will increase to $10 billion this year.
“This is forcing us to look at how services like ground handling can be delivered more efficiently.
“In line with our obligations, we commenced discussions with the TWU after advising our employees that we proposed to outsource the remaining ground handling work that is done in-house. No decision has been made.
“Employees representatives will be provided paid time off as well as support from subject matter experts within the business to respond to the proposal and prepare an in-house bid. They will also have longer than specialist ground handlers to prepare a bid.”
Qantas said it appreciated that the cost savings and capital investment required are “very high” and will be challenging for employees to achieve.
“But given the impact of COVID on the business, it is so important that they are achieved,” the spokesperson said. “The size of the potential savings demonstrates what could be achieved from using specialist ground handlers.”
Last week, the Qantas Group said its proposal to outsource ground handling operations would affect the livelihoods of 2,420 of its employees at the 10 airports where the work is done in-house, and its bus services for customers and employees around Sydney Airport.
Qantas said such a move would save the group an estimated $100 million in operating costs each year, and came on top of the group’s 6,000 job cuts already announced.
It also followed a net loss of $1.9 billion for the group in FY20 and a $4 billion drop in revenue in the second half of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated border restrictions.
The announcement of further cuts to jobs, which came despite more than $500 million in government support, was met with condemnation from the TWU, which called for the resignation of Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce, a move dismissed by Qantas.
According to staff emails seen by The Australian Financial Review, Joyce is back on Qantas’ payroll, earning 65 per cent of his pre-pandemic salary (which a Qantas spokesperson told Travel Weekly is $2.015 million), while his direct reports are receiving 85 per cent of their pre-pandemic pay.
This was revealed as Qantas announced the departure of its international boss, Tino La Spina, from its executive team.
However, while the group had received $515 million in gross government support, as outlined in its annual results released on 20 August, a spokesperson for the airline said the net benefit to Qantas was $15 million.
A Qantas spokesman told Travel Weekly that $267 million of the government support was in the form of JobKeeper payments, most of which, he said, went directly to “our people who are stood down without work”.
The balance of that $267 million was used as a wage subsidy for those still working, while the remainder of the $515 million went to run flights on behalf of government.
These included “more than 100 international services to assist with repatriation as well as domestic flights to maintain key transport links”, services, the spokesman said, which would not have otherwise been commercially viable.
“When we announced all these figures on 20 August, the TWU issued a statement (here) to say that Qantas in fact needed more support from government,” the spokesman told Travel Weekly.
Swissport denies job advertisements connected to Qantas proposal to outsource
It is unclear which companies would potentially take over Qantas and Jetstar’s ground handling operations, should the move to outsource the work go ahead.
However, the TWU has alleged that Swissport is “already advertising” for the roles Qantas wants to outsource. But the company denies any of these roles are connected to Qantas’ ground handling outsourcing consultation process.
Currently, Swissport Australia is taking ‘expressions of interest’ for airline customer service agents, ramp services agents, passenger facilitation agents, luggage trolley agent, and airport bus drivers.
“As a leading ground services provider in the region, working across 24 airports in Australia, and with more than 18 international and domestic airlines, we have posted a number of job advertisements this week in anticipation for a resurgence to domestic flying in coming months,” a Swissport spokesperson told Travel Weekly.
“A number of our employees have successfully found alternative jobs through our redeployment programs established earlier in the year.
“These advertisements are unrelated to Qantas’ ground handling outsourcing consultation process.”
Featured image source: Facebook/Transport Workers Union