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Qantas ground handling bid process was a stitch-up, says TWU

written by Adam Thorn | December 15, 2020
Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND Emily Kame Kngwarreye touches down in Alice Springs. (Qantas/James Morgan)
Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND Emily Kame Kngwarreye touches down in Alice Springs. (Qantas/James Morgan)

The TWU has said Qantas’ bidding process for its ground handling contract was a sham, after it picked Swissport’s proposal ahead of its own in-house rival.

The union’s bid was submitted on 24 November but was rejected a week later, on 30 November.

National secretary Michael Kaine told Australian Aviation, “The announcement came through with a very thorough, complete notification, setting out with great precision where the work was going. So, of course, what’s clear to us is that the decision was made long before the final in-house bid was received from workers.”

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Earlier on Tuesday, Swissport confirmed it had been picked by Qantas to provide its ground handling at Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. The TWU is currently taking the airline to the Federal Court, arguing the decision to outsource alone is a breach of the Fair Work Act.

The disputed 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.

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.

Speaking exclusively to Australian Aviation after the TWU’s bid was rejected, Kaine said the decision to outsource was a breach of the spirit of the JobKeeper payment.

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“The implied and express social contract, the well-expressed social contract, was that employers would be provided financial assistance with the express purpose that those companies would keep the workers connected with their employer,” said Kaine.  “Now, the implied promise in all of them is that you don’t, then, after having received that benefit, on that basis, under the kind of auspices of that social contract, you don’t then contract out that work away.”

Kaine added the decision was “very poor corporate behaviour” and a “very poor way to repay loyalty” of employees.

In response, Qantas has accused the TWU of not telling the truth. In particular, it has rejected that it has transferred ground handling roles to “labour hire firms” and denied it has abused JobKeeper subsidies. It’s also hit back at the central claim that it removed in-house roles to avoid collective bargaining agreements.

Qantas also maintained it rejected the TWU’s proposal because it didn’t meet its objective, which it cited as reducing the cost of ground handling operations by $100 million and avoiding large spending on equipment such as aircraft tugs and baggage loaders.

Separately, the TWU has tasked Waterfront dispute lawyer Josh Bornstein with arguing in the Federal Court that the airline’s proposals contravene the Fair Work Act. If successful, a potential ruling could have major ramifications for other businesses. Bornstein has said the legal challenge would put “outsourcing on trial”.

“If Qantas can replace thousands of its employees with cheaper, insecure labour hire employees then this can happen to any other employee in any Australian workplace,” said Bornstein.

“This important test case for the TWU will determine whether Qantas’ decision to sack 2,000 workers to outsource these jobs breaches workplace laws.

“The Fair Work Act makes clear that you can’t sack employees because they are entitled to collectively bargained employment conditions. By outsourcing this work, Qantas is seeking to avoid collective bargaining under the Fair Work Act.

“If the outsourcing proceeds, Qantas will no longer have to negotiate with the workers who perform the work. Instead Qantas will be able to unilaterally impose a price for the services of outsourced workers, and those outsourced workers will not be allowed to bargain with Qantas under current IR laws.”

 

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10 Comments

  • Trevor

    says:

    Of course the TWU would say that!
    Anything, & everything they do, or say, as long as it discredits QANTAS.
    They’re angry that they lost their last TWO court cases’ against QF.
    They’ll lose this one, too.

  • When are the rank and file TWU members going to realise they have a highly paid “dud” as Secretary.
    If Kaine keeps it up it will induce Qantas to outsource all their members in the Qantas International and Domestic Freight sheds. If QF have saved $103m on the ramp there must be $50-80m to be saved in the Sheds as the practices and “grey” conditions also grew out of the wharves.
    This time around they dont have the tanker drivers to impose secondary illegal boycotts. TWU lost that one too.
    This guy couldn’t beat time with a stick.

  • William Nitschke

    says:

    Maybe First bags on QF flights might finally start coming out before economy ones
    Best news ever! TWU employees – reflect on how you could’ve done your job better!

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    What the TWU does not see here is the public’s perception of it’s actions, eg it is the TWU way or no way as is exemplified by recent photographs of the TWU “Bover Boys”, some with masks on prancing outside AJ’s residence and now with high profile lawyers trying to intervene in a legitimate commercial business practice. It would appear to me that the announced new operator will be needing staff, more than likely they will be from the QF current resources and in no time, it is likely that all affected staff will be re-employed under the new umbrella, of course they will be TWU members so seriously, what is the problem? If the TWU was truly serious about their tender they should maybe have fully identified to onlookers the total value and source of the venture capital needed to fund such a tender offer, that would be interesting! From experience, I think the TWU wanted QF to continue to supply and maintain ground service equipment whilst they just supply the labour. I can empathise with the staff concerned but believe me, great opportunities are not far away. Best wishes.

  • Ben

    says:

    Typical behaviour of a big union on the losing side of a war. They are more annoyed that Swissport has low union membership and so they are the biggest loser of this work being outsourced. Outsourcing means savings in not only the jobs directly being replaced, but also reductions in not having to purchase & maintain GSE, inefficiencies when staff are idle between flights and of course staff to manage and train the staff! When you push all these costs to a third party you naturally get a cost advantage because you move to a ‘user pays’ model. Swissport gets better utilisation using the tugs as an example, they can push a Qantas aircraft, then next work an international carrier and then another Qantas aircraft… they simply can get better utilisation because they work more operations and effiencies of scale.

    The original rampies are at a disadvantage, because their cost base has meant they lost most if not all of the international work to Swissport and Menzies. This in itself denies Qantas any scale bonuses in handling additional airlines to themselves.

  • Brendan

    says:

    Shows the underhanded tactics that Alan Joyce does to the qantas group workforce. Remember the staff were forced to take a 18month pay freeze after Joyce used accounting practices to devalue the A380 fleet to make a loss back in 2013 but he himself pocketed $25 million from that loss.
    Destroying an Australian icon to make a short term bonus. Shame

  • James

    says:

    When a baggage handler is earning $100K+ to move a few bags around, you know you’ve priced yourself out of the market. I don’t begrudge their colleagues who fought for the terms and conditions they’ve enjoyed. But eventually the money train runs out of steam.

  • Brett Maxwell

    says:

    James what baggage handler earns $100K +? Think you need to do your research a little better mate

  • Ghostflyer

    says:

    It’s seems that some people haven’t experienced working in the extreme heat [45degs plus on the tarmac]or extreme cold or when wind and rain are trying to tear off your rain coat . It seems that some people haven’t experienced working on weekends at all hours or working over Xmas and or seeing their children grow up [missing out going to school functions]
    It’s back breaking work throwing 25 kilo bags around . Plus there are changing airport policy and procedures to learn and comply with . I am not a bag chucker or have ever been so . But observed tarmac operations for nearly 40 years . These guys have families and a life .

  • Nate

    says:

    Hey Ghostflyer……

    The ‘rampies’ chose the job they do! They knew what negatives’ were on-job, but they still chose to do it!
    AND they get paid extremely well, with penalty rates, meal costs etc., compared to many in other aviation areas’.
    They’ve had ‘cushy’ times’ for decades’, now it’s time ‘to pay the piper’.

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