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TWU takes Qantas to tribunal over potential 2,000 job losses

written by Adam Thorn | September 9, 2020

A file image of Qantas aircraft at Sydney Airport. (Rob Finlayson)
A file image of Qantas aircraft at Sydney Airport. (Rob Finlayson)

The TWU will attend a Fair Work Commission preliminary hearing on Thursday and argue Qantas employees haven’t been given enough time to prepare a rival proposal to keep 2,000 ground-handling jobs in-house.

In a pre-hearing letter to Justice Iain Ross, seen by Australian Aviation, the union said employees have been given “no real opportunity” to compile a bid that has “any prospect of success”.

Qantas has said in response the TWU is “misrepresenting the situation”, “misleading its members” and will “vigorously defend” the union’s claims.

Last month, the airline announced thousands more jobs are at risk because the business is considering outsourcing its remaining ground handling operations. However, before a final decision is made, it is giving staff the chance to compile an in-house bid to rival those made by external companies.

The TWU said in its letter to the Fair Work Commission contesting the bidding process that “the timeline imposed for an in-house bid for the work proposed to be contracted out is unfair, arbitrary and provides no real or practical opportunity for employees to compile an in-house bid that has any prospect of success”.


Qantas has told Australian Aviation in response that “no decision has been made” yet and that “employee 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”.

“We appreciate that the cost savings and capital investment required are very high and will be challenging for employees to achieve,” said a Qantas spokesperson. “But given the impact of COVID on the business, it is so important that they are achieved. The size of the potential savings demonstrates what could be achieved from using specialist ground handlers.”

The proposed staffing cuts are in addition to the 6,000 already announced, and would include 370 already confirmed job losses at Jetstar and potentially more than 2,000 at Qantas.

The news came a week after the wider company blamed a “near-total collapse in travel demand” for recording a statutory loss before tax of $2.7 billion for the last financial year.

Qantas proposal would see the airline brand outsource its ground handling 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.

Jetstar, meanwhile, has already decided to outsource ground handling at the six remaining Australian airports – Adelaide, Avalon, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney Domestic – leading to 370 job losses, subject to union consultation.

The business said “customer-facing team members” at airports are not affected by the moves, and the plans could save it $100 million in operating costs each year.

At the time of the announcement, Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans said, “We realise this decision will be extremely difficult news for our ground handling team and their families at what is already a very challenging time.

“Every major airline around the world uses these specialist providers to support their operations. These ground handlers provide these services to many airlines at airports, rather than just one, and provide scalable resources, which makes them very cost-effective.

“Contracting this work out also reduces the capital spend required each year. As an example, Qantas and Jetstar would need to invest a further $100 million on ground handling equipment over the next five years, such as tugs and bag loaders, if the work is kept in-house.

“The Qantas Group sets the safety standards through our safety management system – whether work is done in-house or [by] external suppliers. We expect some unions will come out and say these suppliers are unsafe, despite the fact they are used by every other airline in this country.

“We would never compromise on safety. We’ve already worked with some of these suppliers for decades and we know their track record on safety is consistent with work done in-house.”

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Comments (8)

  • Dave


    In-house bidding never works. Qantas staff could come out with an initial lower bid, however how long will that contract last until they need to bid again a few years later. QF management just want to play off the various airport ground handlers until one comes up with a price they are prepared to pay (aka – Race to the Bottom). This is an opportunity for QF to dissolve dealings with the TWU and let other companies negotiate the painful enterprise agreement process. Check-in staff and the ASU will be next and then they’ll set their sights on the Engineers and ALAEA. It’s all working out perfectly to just run a virtual airline, something QF Management have been after for decades now.

  • Shane


    We get any opportunity at all at Jetstar to put in our own bid for ramp operations.

  • Rod Pickin


    Everyone must realise that almost all of airport/airline operational duties can be fulfilled by “labour hire/handling” organisations, it’s not a new idea by any means and in the main this is due to the total costs that companies incur to achieve the task in house which also often involves a large non productive downtime component. One has to respect and admire responsible company staff who identify these often outrageous non productive costs and it is incumbent upon company management to try to eliminate the problem for the benefit of the company going forward. In the case of QF at this time sure, the problem is real and I note QF’s desire to get staff input via an “in house bid” which is code for Competitive Tendering. From previous direct involvement, this is not a good path to travel as those involved have no idea or inputs from the company as to their wishes. It seems to me rather like going to relationship counselling when the partner doesn’t declare their concerns up front, progress is limited or non existent. Recent history is littered with examples of Trade Union Officials who grew up in troubled childhood industrial neighborhoods growing huge chips on their shoulders in the process some, even gaining entry to our national parliament and not appearing to make any positive difference to society. These days as I have posted before I think Trade Unions are having reducing positive influence upon both members and the companies they consult with to wit I ask that say, the T.W.U. to divert their actions from their familiar aggressive behaviours and be bold, start up their own ground handling company utilising their current membership to fulfil the tasks under the award conditions they insist upon. Surely this would be a positive result for all!

  • Rocket


    This is why the TWU doesn’t care about the membership, this is being conducted as a political exercise when Qantas has already said that they will facilitate the current staff bidding for the work. Qantas normall fly to what? 80 airports across their entire network and contracted ground handling is fine at every one except not at the 11 airports mentioned. Never any complaints at all the regional ports from the union, just these 11 because somehow Qantas is different to every other airline in the world, nearly all of whom contract this work out everywhere.

  • Craigy


    The problem with an in-house bid as I see it is how will they fund the capital for the purchase of the ground equipment needed for baggage and cargo handling? Maybe their Transport worker superfund will provide the capital?

  • Nate


    Instead of wasting members’ TWU subscriptions’ on fighting legal battles that they won’t win, the union would be better giving their members’ direct financial support.
    The union is going full steam ahead to screw QANTAS any way they can, & they don’t care how they do it.
    The last time they took QANTAS to Court, they lost big time. They don’t ever learn, they’re such dumba$$#@.
    Sick of their constant QANTAS bashing.

    It’ll be interesting to see if they start bashing Bain, at Virgin, after 31-10-2020.

  • christopher


    TWU did not fight for catering when it was being sold. They thought they were going to get our super This did not happen so now they want to fight because nothing in it for them

  • Jeff


    The worst thing now about being a ramp worker now is where in Limbo.. nobody knows what going on,do I look for other work,or just keep hopeimg to go back.most of my fellow workers have taken a package, maybe I should have done the same….

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