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.
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”.