Qantas CEO Alan Joyce used his appearance before a Senate committee on Monday to hit back at proposed changes to the Qantas Sale Act that he said would force the company to cut routes and either sell or shutter budget subsidiary Jetstar.
The union backed changes, introduced by independent Senator Nick Xenophon and co-sponsored by Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, would force Qantas to move Jetstar maintenance to Australia and require the carrier to pay overseas-based crew at local wages during some flights.
While the legislation is seen as having little chance of passage, Joyce made a forceful case against the changes. The requirement to pay overseas crew local rates would force Qantas to slash flights to Darwin and Cairns, he said, while the need to perform maintenance in Australia would leave Jetstar facing competitors with far lower labour costs.
“Those of us running Qantas would have to face a choice: allow Jetstar to fail within the confines of the Qantas Sale Act, or sell it to allow it to succeed outside it,” Joyce said.
Qantas pays foreign crew about $2000 a month, compared to $5000-$6000 a month for Australian crew, airline executive have said. But they point out that this is still far more than the average $1000 a month paid to cabin crew in developed Asian countries.
Still, the offshoring of Qantas jobs has emerged as a major flash point in labour battles between the Flying Kangaroo and its unions over the past year, and Xenophon said preserving Australian jobs remains the key issue. He said paying overseas crew at local rates would have a “minuscule” impact on the airline’s costs and criticised as ridiculous Joyce’s assertion that the changes would make Darwin and Cairns routes unviable.