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Qantas picks Swissport for outsourced ground handling

written by Adam Thorn | December 15, 2020
Swissport has been appointed by Qantas as its preferred partner for ground services
Swissport has been appointed by Qantas as its preferred partner for ground services.

Qantas has chosen Swissport to provide its ground handling at Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra following its decision to outsource the service.

The Switzerland-headquartered company has signed a five-year deal with the airline that will cover 70,000 flights and follows an expanded deal with subsidiary Jetstar.

The TWU is currently taking Qantas to the high-court over its decision to outsource the 2,000 jobs, arguing the proposals contravene the Fair Work Act.

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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.

Swissport executive vice president, Glenn Rutherford, said, “Qantas is seeking better performance in ground operations particularly as they fight to recover from the impact of COVID-19. Their decision to outsource is in line with most other major airlines around the world.

“It is a fantastic opportunity for our extraordinary workforce, which has been incredibly loyal and supportive over many years, and for whom 2020 has been particularly challenging.”

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The business claimed it won a “rigorous tender process” that put an emphasis on “safety, operational performance, cost, experience and financial viability, and involved ramp services and fleet presentation at 10 Australian airports”.

The TWU, which has a long-standing bad relationship with Swissport, hit out at the deal in a letter sent this week to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

National secretary Michael Kaine wrote, “It is a fantasy to believe that standards will not slip: Qantas will give a major portion of the work to Swissport, a company which has been exposed over safety and security breaches and which has failed over almost five years to secure approval for an enterprise agreement at the Fair Work Commission because successive deals failed to meet minimum standards.

“Not only are pay and conditions substandard at Swissport, training standards are lower and worker turnover rates are high.”

Swissport has long disputed the TWU’s claims, in particular arguing its enterprise agreement was approved by more than 90 per cent of staff.

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.

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.

41 Comments

  • Dave

    says:

    Swissport already look after so many airlines in Australian airports, I do not see there being a quality issue, and if this helps keep Qantas flying, I am all for it. Hopefully one day again soon, it can run its own ground handlers and airline agents.

  • AgentGerko

    says:

    Swissport might be Swiss-based, as you mention, but it is Chinese owned, which you did not mention. Another vital service being taken over by a Chinese-owned company. Without ground handling staff our airlines cannot operate. Well done Mr Joyce.

    • Rocket

      says:

      @AGEMTGERKO
      Check your facts, Swissport is not Chinese owned. It was sold back to European and US interests some time ago.

  • Dave

    says:

    I take it that if former Qantas Catering staff who now work for Dnata are not entitled to Jobkeeper, this would naturally apply to Swissport employees? Interesting.

    So are Airport Customer Service staff next? Seems like they have flicked Ticketing and Service Desk staff so it’s only a matter of time before Management look at further ‘savings’?

    It’s a race to the bottom I say, expect more baggage mishandling issues and no one at the airport to talk to who can sort it out. Make sure your phones are fully charged!!

  • This is a good result not only for Qantas but its passengers as the $100m saved will take some pressure off increasing fares as we go into the domestic recovery period.
    Once all 10 stations are appointed the featherbedded labour force will drop 900. The TWU has seen it coming since 2012 but at no time did Senator Sheldon every suggest to his members Santa Clause doesn’t come 365 days per year.
    The TWU is so bloody minded Qantas should now outsource the direct hire TWU members in their domestic and International Freight Sheds. Finally the practices of Australian wharves is see the end at airports.
    The TWU must soon realise they aren’t good at picking fights or picking the right winner for Virgin

  • Qantas the spirit of Australia? China bans Australian food and wine, Qantas give them business, Time for the government to scrap all protections given to Qantas, open up Australia to overseas airlines to allow pick up services from Australian cities to Australian cities.

  • Shane

    says:

    Good luck in having a reliable workforce for you OTP.

  • Geoff

    says:

    I assume the money paid to Swissport goes off shore. If QF had have chosen Aerocare I’m guessing the money would have stayed in Australia.

    • Brett Weston

      says:

      One in the same Geoff. Swissport bought Aerocare a few years back along with some other smaller outfits at regional airports…

  • Peter Sutton

    says:

    Well QANTAS to have outsourced the work to a Chinese backed company ( Swissport) is the wrong decision you ( QANTAS) are TRAITORS

    • Rocket

      says:

      NOT Chinese owned. Do some research perhaps

  • Vannus

    says:

    It’s about time unions’ realised that companies’ have got to do what they’ve got to do, to stay afloat.
    If they don’t, NOBODY has a job.
    By their actions’, the TWU is actually heading their members’ in that direction.
    But they’re way too stupid to realise this.
    Who’d be a union member with their subs being wasted in legal action against QANTAS?

  • ken

    says:

    You forgot to mention that Swissport is actually Chinese owned

  • Edgar Britt

    says:

    Will Qantas allow the media to report aircraft damage and delay costs especially when the night curfew – 11pm departures are reinstated? It cost a lot of money to provide a plane load of hotel rooms overnight and aircraft re-scheduling and crew out of hours.

    • Rocket

      says:

      @EDGAR BRITT
      Actually, I believe the rates of aircraft damage are higher in self-handled ports compared to contracted ports already, so that can only improve the damage rates.

  • Warwick

    says:

    To Dave, above…..

    Your last sentence is wishful thinking. Once a department in an airline is ‘outsourced’, said airline doesn’t start it up again. Full stop.
    Outsourcing saves so much money for the Company, my only surprise is it didn’t do it years’ ago.

  • Peter

    says:

    They handled Tiger. Got nothing but uncoperative help. Sorry QF wrong descision. Will they be handing check in as well, as were useless before.

  • Chris

    says:

    You Swiss headquartered, Chinese owned company seems like a wise choice at the moment?

  • nitschkewj

    says:

    Really, of course it’s all part of the crap job TWU employees have done for years

  • Well since our government outsourced all of our industries, it comes as no surprise to me, that our politicians are outsourcing our manpower, as it dosesn’t affect them, only the working class

  • Marcus

    says:

    Swiss port are hot garbage. Expect delayed flights and more lost bags. Horrible company!!!

  • Jono

    says:

    Dumb dumbs! Why is Qantas supporting a Chinese company at this time? Surely there are other candidates with Australian workers and profits hopefully staying in Australia.

  • Gus Daffy

    says:

    The time to fight for these jobs was 29 years ago in 91 when Australian Airlines made all Mackay ,Proserpine & Rockhampton staff ‘redundant’ when they introduced Airlink to Australia which all tech crew , flight attendants & ground handlers were employed by contractors (the Bae-146 aircraft were in Airlink livery ) but staff were in QF uniforms .
    Potential Swissport staff (in the ad for staff in Mackay in 2020) must have paid for and obtained their own DG course and police checks for the priveledge of working for them .i wish the QF staff good luck but I fear the deal has been signed ,sealed & will very shortly delivered .I would advise redundant QF staff to not stay in the industry because things will be done very differently at Swissportwith far less staff for far less money & even your carpark will be gone because now , although dressed i n a QF uniform , going to the same airport & inputting the same inputs on computers at probably even the same station as the day before , now you are a dirty ole contractor & they give car parks to no-one !!
    I am so glad I’m too old to be in this industry anymore .

  • Edgar Allenspach

    says:

    Headquarters in Switzerland but wholly Chinese owned !

  • Pete

    says:

    Hands down the worst Ground Handling agent in Australia, Swiss port have pushed all competitors out so they are the only option unfortunately in many major airports.

  • David

    says:

    I thought swissport is Chinese owed company so more of our Australian dollars going overseas so good on you Qantas spirit of Australia

    • Rocket

      says:

      @DAVID.
      Its NOT Chinese owned.
      Secondly, yes, terrible old Qantas, sending more Australian dollars (‘our’ Australian dollars???? Qantas was a publicly listed company last time I looked, they’re not your dollars) overseas, how terrible. Maybe they should buy GAF Nomads instead of all these terrible Boeings and Airbus’, more of ‘our’ money going overseas.
      Give me a break, just about everything comes from overseas, Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey saw to it that the last of our manufacturing went offshore and they also gutted funding for the CSIRO which sent many of our world leading scientists to NASA, the USGA and others so let’s not have any whinging about the Chinese or anyone else.

  • Scott

    says:

    Owned by China good work Qantas

  • Brendan Agnew

    says:

    Wake up Dave. It’s all about short term bonus for lazy management

  • John

    says:

    I wonder how long it will before Air NZ
    Goes down the same road!
    It sticks out a mile.

    • Rocket

      says:

      @JOHN.

      Air NZ has been doing this for years, it sold it’s catering to LSG SkyChefs years ago. Qantas is one of the LAST airlines to do this.

  • Peter

    says:

    So the Chinese now control our airports and some people seem to think this is a good result.
    If this is how Joyce is going to treat the people of the country where his business is the Nationsl Carrier then I suggest it is time for Joyce to go.
    China has control of airports, wharves, water, infrastructure and agricultural land. They also own cosl mines and all sorts of things we don’t hear about.
    QANTAS has given China more control of our country to China than the Federal Giverent has.
    Oh and where is the TWU?
    Why haven’t they shut QANTAS down completely?

  • James

    says:

    Agree Gus. Although most of the people posting on this site have no idea what or where you’re talking about. Wouldn’t even know who NJS were..

    Geoff.

    Pretty sure Aerocare was bought by Swissport a number of years back..

    • Rocket

      says:

      Not only that, I’m sure no-one has ever heard of the Federal Giverent.

  • Rod Pickin

    says:

    QF, not a decision that is in the countries best interests. I would have thought that DNTA would have been a more politically/commercially acceptable result.

  • Adrian P

    says:

    The Australians who own fifty-one percent of QANTAS sit on their hands and say nothing.

  • Vannus

    says:

    To Peter, above….

    QANTAS has to do whatever to SURVIVE, following this pandemic.
    You should read the press release of late, by the CEO & Board, thereby maybe, just maybe, learning FACTS!
    The next possible department to be outsourced will be Freight.
    BTW, that disgusting union nearly brought QF to its’ knees, Aug-Oct 2011, with daily strikes, with staff being physically & verbally abused across several areas’, until CEO Alan Joyce & the Board had the guts to ground it. Don’t talk to me about ‘where’s the TWU’.
    You’ve no idea about the Company, or how it works, so just get on your illogical, & ignorant soapbox.

  • Jeff

    says:

    To Rod Pickin, above……

    It’s ‘country’s’, possessive, we’re still one country, not multiple countries’.
    Obviously, QF made its’ decision on information collated.
    Maybe Dnata didn’t suit, currently.

  • Peter

    says:

    What no arm chair commenter above realises is that efficiency in the key and that this is a necessity. QF mainline ground handling has become so inefficient / team members so used to cushy work and perks that someone else will do the job better for less. That is market economics and applies to every single business in the country. I personally applaud Mr Joyce for taking a hard line with near unionist slackers to improve service and efficiency within his business (hey – that’s his job)!. Also – the net loss of any jobs through efficiency is a fact of life in any business – Swissport will employ Australians to handle these contracts and not outsource ground crew to China!

    • Rod Pickin

      says:

      Hi Peter, can’t disagree with you and yes, A.J. has had to do the washing up again and yes, no problem, that is his job. I am sure that you be aware that some years ago there was a major shift in how the Ramp Staff staff covered by the TWU award were managed, that change, most likely at the recommendation of Mr. Bill Kelty handed the day to day operational management over to the TWU staffers who even gained a previously unheard of classification for them which equated then to the rate of a grade 8 staffer, a “super leading hand”. Despite the needs for, no specific training, weight and balance, load restraint and distribution etc, was given to the new incumbents, the then skilled operators covered by other less active unions were displaced, gone! The new ramp staff group became a virtual self managed work group and as we know standards fell dramatically, lerks and perks blossomed and the customer suffered by questionable service. Ok, that group of staff have been outsourced but what has happened to the level of management that should have counselled those staff in order to maintain company standards. With respect, I expect that they have been promoted to other tasks where they can excel in incompetency.

  • Dennis

    says:

    It amazes me that some ppl believe that Qantas is doing all this [cutting/outsourcing jobs] in order to ‘SURVIVE’… c’mon, really? Qantas is one of the best financially performing airlines in the world, and one of the few airlines that owns all of its aircraft outright (at least they did before COVID hit). This is the major factor that has enabled Qantas to ‘SURVIVE’ this covid pandemic, by utilising this liquidity they were able to turn these assets quickly into cash in order to keep the whole business operating! According to A.J. they raised enough $$$ to keep the whole thing going for 3+ years if they had to, and this was back early/mid 2020 when everything was grounded!
    As much as it pains me to say it [pre-covid] Mr Joyce has done pretty well (from a financial perspective) making sure that Qantas was in such a strong position so as to allow it to come out the other side of this crazy pandemic and get back to business as usual.
    Outsourcing underwing workers (ground staff) or any other EA bound Qantas employees is not going to be the thing that determines QF’s survival. Swissport don’t carry out the work for free, it actually (in most cases) costs more per man hour to hire them to do the job. Where Mr Joyce saves $$$ is in legal fees and other perceived costs involved in bargaining with staff when EA’s come up for renewal. The reason ppl prefer working full-time for any given company is that the ‘Fair Work Act’ provides certain basic rights to employees, and in large workplaces like Qantas everyone’s working conditions are set out in specific ‘Enterprise Agreements’ which ensure employees know the standards expected of them by their employer and in turn their compensation and future career path is laid out in black and white. When said EA comes up for negotiation Fair Work use a very well know tool for approving or denying the new EA that QF submits to Fair Work and its called the BOOT – Better Off Overall Test. This is what Qantas and most other large companies don’t like as it basically ensures that any worker who falls under the current EA must be considered to be in a better position moving forward under the new proposed EA i.e. it is very difficult to backwards with regards to compensation and conditions. Some may say that it is thanks to these laws and agreements that we in Australia still maintain relatively high wages and living conditions especially within blue collar industries. Just look at the U.S as an example, workers lost all their rights long ago and look what happened to their wages.

    Anyway this comment is a teeny bit long so I’ll finish up by saying – Qantas’ employees are their BIGGEST asset and are the reason the airline has the great reputation amongst all those who fly. Their is enough liquidity within the company to keep it going throughout this crisis if it needs it, the shareholders may take a temporary hit but any losses will quickly be recovered once the airline starts flying at capacity again. Instead it looks like some of the hard working staff are the ones who will have to take the brunt of this covid induced mess 🙁 at least the shareholders will be that little happier at the next AGM I guess…..
    C’mon Australia, hasn’t COVID taught us that there are more important things than money….

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