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 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.”
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.