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TWU hires Waterfront lawyer to battle Qantas

written by Adam Thorn | September 14, 2020

Josh Bornstein Lawyers Weekly Awards
Josh Bornstein Lawyers Weekly Awards

The TWU has hired the heavyweight lawyer who helped win the infamous Waterfront dispute to challenge Qantas’ proposal to outsource ground-handling operations.

The union said Maurice Blackburn industrial relations specialist Josh Bornstein would ensure “all options are available” to potentially fight the airline through the courts.

Last month, Qantas announced thousands more jobs are at risk because the business is considering outsourcing its remaining ground-handling operations, subject to hearing bids from both private contractors as well as in-house staff.

Qantas’ plans would see the airline brand remove operations at the 10 Australian airports where the work is done in-house, which includes Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Townsville.

However, before a final decision is made, the company is giving staff the chance to compile an in-house bid to rival those made by external organisations.


The TWU, however, has concerns over that process and last week began taking Qantas to a Fair Work Commission tribunal where it argued employees haven’t been given enough time to prepare their alternative proposal.

In a hardening of its opposition, the TWU has now announced it will hire Bornstein to help because of the apparent similarities between this case and the 1997 Waterfront dispute, which saw seaport operator Patrick Corporation dismiss its unionised workforce.

The decision was later found to be illegal in the Federal Court.

So high profile was Bornstein’s role in the victory that an ABC fictionalised dramatisation of the case famously depicted Bornstein reading legal texts in the nude.

He was also recently awarded the “Workplace Relations Partner of the Year 2019” at the Lawyers Weekly Partner of the Year Awards and has been ranked as Victoria’s top employment lawyer for employees.

His clients have included broadcaster Ross Stevenson, publisher Louise Adler, the State of Victoria, Essendon Football Club and writers Marieke Hardy and Clementine Ford.

The TWU has also announced it will enlist Ernst & Young to “assess the criteria and conditions” Qantas is setting for workers to bid.

“This fight is an important one which will reverberate across the Australian industrial landscape,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine. “Today it is Qantas workers who in the midst of a pandemic are being targeted for outsourcing so exploited workers can do the work instead. Tomorrow it could be any worker.

“That is why the TWU intends to commit resources to this fight and we believe we have the support of the broader community in this.

“Qantas workers feel very let down by Qantas management, which tried to use the pandemic as a veil for discarding them and their jobs. They feel very let down by the federal government, which has handed $800 million in taxpayers’ subsidies to Qantas only to now try to kill their jobs.”

Qantas has repeatedly defended the decision to review its ground-handling operations and believes outsourcing could save the business up to $100 million a year.

“The TWU’s allegation disrespects the process of the review, which is open to an in-house bid by Qantas airports staff,” said an airline spokesperson. “We are currently responding to the biggest crisis the aviation industry has ever seen and must take drastic action in order to survive. This includes looking at every opportunity to make our operations more efficient.”

The escalation comes days after the TWU dramatically gathered outside Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce’s private home to protest and hand-deliver a letter.

The union’s campaign chief, Emily McMillan, said the intervention was necessary because “there’s no way else to communicate with him”.

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Comments (11)

  • Paul Robson


    Whilst I am no fan of outsourcing, after decades of the TWU disrupting the travel plans of thousands of Australians with industrial action, I’m sure a lot of travellers will have little sympathy for them!

  • Paul


    Yet MORE waste, by TWU, of Members’ subscriptions’. Is there NO limit to what they’ll use those dollars’ for?

    Bet if union bosses’, out of their own pockets’, had to foot the enormous legal fee bill, they wouldn’t.

    No matter who they hire, they won’t win. They didn’t the last time they took on QANTAS,
    & the same will happen now.

  • Nicholas


    The TWU is delusional to be polite.

    They seem to be in some parallel universe where no Covid and it’s impact on aviation exists.

  • Paul B


    How many TWU union bosses took a pay cut during this pandemic?
    The union throws members money around with lawyers and accountants. Must be deep pockets. What happens to members funds if they loose? Will members revolt against the leadership wasting money?

  • Craigy


    I wonder how long it will be before Bain seek to outsource baggage handling to save money at Virgin? With a smaller fleet and less flights, it would be cheaper to outsource rather than keep it in house as services are provided on demand instead of having staff sitting around doing nothing between flights.

  • Darlene


    Will this help catering staff that were sold to Dnata?

  • Noel


    I’m certainly not an Alan Joyce fan, but the TWU’s demonstration outside his private home last week was appalling and simply demonstrates the brainless, bullying tactics of this union.

  • Col


    TWU does not give a rats BUTT if a business needs to be profitable- look what they did to Ansett simply because Ansett were not strong enough or didn’t feel the need to defend themselves against their thuggary. Yes Air Newzealand was the last nail in the coffin but the Union pretty much put in the first 1000 nails. Did the the twu SAVE Jobs at ansett or did everyone lose there job.
    For those employees in this union you need to rethink your actions, TWU don’t care if Qantas ends up like Ansett but you should

  • Adrian P


    Companies ask for loyalty from their employees and then sell them to a third party.
    In a previous post QANTAS said they did not want to spend money on replacing their old ground service equipment that is in need of replacement, which would suggest under investment in capital equipment for the support service aspect of running an airline. From a business perspective is outsourcing the right way to go? The Victorian government outsourced security for the quarantine service and look how bad that turned out to be. It is also passes control of a major part of the airlines effectiveness to a third party. Just how bad are parts of the QANTAS management that the employees have to come up with a business plan to remain in house, surely that is why QANTAS employ managers.

  • Dane


    To Craigy above……

    You’re so right! Bain will be doing EVERYTHING possible to make all as cheap as chips to run.
    They won’t stand for any union thuggery whatsoever. They’re in the very monied position to be able to jack it all in if unions’ try & play ‘cute’.
    These unions’ ain’t seen nothin’ yet, & their paying members’ will lose hugely.
    Just wait & see, once Bain has complete control come end Oct.

  • Seb


    Was Qantas selling their catering to Dnata Legal?
    What does it say in their charter
    Liberals did not object did Labour or TWU ?

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