The TWU has publicly accused Qantas of telling ground handling companies not to hire its redundant workers.
Qantas said in response that it “completely rejects” the claims and has actively attempted to facilitate introductions to help its former staff.
The union made the statement hours before it begins a landmark Federal Court case where it will attempt to force the airline to rehire more than 2,000 employees whose roles were outsourced earlier this year.
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.
Speaking outside the Federal Court in Sydney this morning, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine accused the airline of sabotaging redundant employees’ chances of finding work at the companies that won the contracts.
“We’re getting an increasing number of stories coming through to us from workers who have applied for work in these labour hire companies,” said Kaine. “And it seems to us that there’s a reasonable suspicion that Qantas has put the word out that these workers should not be employed.
“Why? Because these workers have been part of a collective workforce who have come together and done exactly what our laws asked them to do: together, sit down and negotiate sensible arrangements that have led to good, secure jobs.
“Now, these companies don’t want workers who had that capacity and that experience, because they know that the next time a contract comes up, Qantas is simply going to dictate the price that it wants to pay for that labour. And they won’t have any choice.”
In the Federal Court today, Waterfront dispute lawyer Josh Bornstein will argue Qantas decision to outsource ground handling workers contravenes the Fair Work Act because employees at the new companies will now no longer entitled to terms secured through enterprise agreements.
If successful, a potential ruling could have major ramifications for other businesses.
Qantas said in response, “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.”
The airline has previously 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.
The case has been controversial because Qantas forged ahead with outsourcing the roles before the outcome of today’s case. It said it was able to do this because the union didn’t obtain an ‘interlocutory injunction’.
Last year, Bornstein said 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.”