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.”