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Qantas forges ahead with 2,000 job losses before court challenge

written by Adam Thorn | January 21, 2021
A supplied image of Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNJ in special centenary livery. (Qantas)
A supplied image of Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNJ in special centenary livery. (Qantas)

Qantas is set to forge ahead with making 2,000 ground handling positions redundant before a crucial challenge to the decision is heard in the Federal Court.

The airline has said it’s able to outsource the roles immediately because the TWU, which is behind the case, didn’t secure a so-called ‘interlocutory injunction’.

The news comes despite the union securing the services of Waterfront dispute lawyer Josh Bornstein, who is set to argue Qantas’ proposals contravene the Fair Work Act. If successful, a potential ruling could have major ramifications for other businesses.

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The disputed Qantas plans will 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.

On Thursday, Qantas said in a statement it had already finalised the remaining outsourcing contracts with ground handling companies, which include picking Swissport and dnata.

The SMH reported that the business will send affected staff members letters confirming their redundancy payments in the next few days, with the transition expected by March – a month before the case arrives in court.

The TWU called the move to not delay the action “appalling”.

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“Qantas workers are distraught and flabbergasted that the airline they’ve given years of their lives to has treated them as disposable cogs in the machine,” TWU assistant national secretary Nick McIntosh said.

“Last year, they were forced to go through the humiliation of bidding for their own jobs, only to be sacked in the new year anyway. Now the airline will never again employ another baggage handler, cabin cleaner or pushback driver.”

McIntosh was referring to a rival bid for the work submitted by the TWU on behalf of staff and prepared alongside EY.

The airline said the bid didn’t save enough money compared with rival offers from third-party providers and was too “theoretical”.

Qantas said in response, “We have used these specialist ground handlers at many Australian airports for decades and they’ve proven they can deliver a safe and reliable service more efficiently than it’s currently done in-house.”

Heavyweight lawyer Bornstein said last year that he believed his case 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 accusations 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.

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3 Comments

  • Vannus

    says:

    Well, who’d have guessed! The hot-shot lawyer the TWU hired, probably at 1000’s $ a day, didn’t do his job, so far. Not getting the ‘interlocutory injunction’ would’ve been the first step, I’d have thought, in this situation.

    I wonder if the staff who are departing QANTAS will be ‘distraught’ when they’re handed their extremely generous redundancy package cheques’? Doubt it. Dependent on years’ of service, some of these payments’ will be in multiple digits. Some will be ‘flabbergasted’ by the largesse, methinks!

    The TWU has already lost TWO court cases in recent months’ against QANTAS.
    Looks like they might be headed for a third. So much money wasted by the TWU, of their members’ subscriptions’.

  • Scott Riches

    says:

    Cathay Pacific will lose over 20000 jobs within 22 months. QF can if they are smart take advantage of Cathay closing down.

  • Dennis

    says:

    In fairness that TWU lawyer’s $1000 per day is a drop in the ocean compared to the team of lawyers QANTAS employs at 10x the $$$… not really a fair fight but at least the TWU are trying.
    Extremely generous redundancy package…..? your joking right? while the amount of $$ on the cheque looks nice, this is money that they have worked hard for and are entitled to. Whatever the amount, this is the last pay cheque some will ever see, now what do they do for the rest of their working lives? You’ll probably say “they will get re-hired” by whoever takes the new ground handling contract, which is true, but no more ‘full-time employee’ as now they are forced into the wonderful world of the casual workforce.
    I wonder if the QF executive team can be outsourced to a 3rd party?? Potential savings are huge 😉

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