The TWU argued in the Federal Court on Tuesday that Qantas outsourced the roles of more than 2,000 workers to reduce union influence.
Its lawyer pointed to language in reports such as “window of opportunity” and also to documents that suggested negotiating with the union to make savings “appeared difficult”.
The TWU is taking legal action to force the airline to rehire the redundant staff. Its central argument is that the decision to remove them contravened the Fair Work Act because employees at the new companies will now no longer be entitled to terms secured through enterprise agreements. Qantas denies the allegations.
The TWU’s barrister, Mark Gibian SC, cross-examining, cited a report by industrial relations consultant Justine Oldmeadow that highlighted the strong union membership of the affected workers.
“Ms Oldmeadow speculates why that might be the case and then indicates that the TWU has not been able to organise significant membership among third-party providers,” said Gibian.
“So… having read that, your understanding was that third party or outsourced suppliers had or were less likely to have high levels of union membership.”
Qantas executive manager airports Colin Hughes said in response he “had no reason not to believe it to be true”.
Gibian then suggested the phrase “window of opportunity” mentioned in reports to Qantas executives implied the airline had to act quickly before workers could take industrial action.
The court also heard evidence that Qantas management prepared a list of “pros and cons” relating to outsourcing the workers, which included brand damage, poor publicity and a negative effect on government and industrial relations.
Both Qantas and Jetstar removed ground handling operations this year at the Australian airports where the work was done in-house, which included Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, shifting them to businesses including Swissport and dnata.
The final decision was eventually taken by Qantas’ head of domestic and international, Andrew David, which resulted in savings of more than $100 million a year.
Qantas said earlier this week that COVID meant it had to make major changes in order to survive.
“We recognise that this was a difficult decision that impacted a lot of our people but outsourcing this work to specialist ground handlers who already do this work for us in other cities across the country is not unlawful,” it said in a statement.
The case continues.