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.
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.”
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.
“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.”