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TWU begins landmark case to rehire Qantas workers

written by Adam Thorn | April 12, 2021
Grounded Jetstar planes parked at Avalon (@avalonairport)

The TWU has today begun its bid in the Federal Court to force Qantas to rehire more than 2,000 ground handlers whose roles were outsourced earlier this year.

The union has hired Waterfront dispute lawyer Josh Bornstein to argue the airline’s actions contravene the Fair Work Act because employees at the new companies will now no longer be entitled to terms secured through enterprise agreements. Qantas denies it has done anything unlawful.

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.

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If successful, a potential ruling could have major ramifications for other businesses.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said at a press conference that this was a “highly significant case” that “goes beyond Qantas”.

“Qantas is testing the limits of our system,” said Kaine. “And what we will be saying in the court is that the real reason Qantas has got rid of this workforce is because this workforce has shown itself to do exactly what our laws ask of them: to come together, and to exercise collective strength to offset the economic influence that Qantas has.

“And through that mechanism, over many decades, there’s been reached mutually agreeable terms and conditions, good terms and conditions, to secure jobs, permanent jobs, that workers can use to go out and get mortgages, support their families and plan for the future.

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“Under the cover of COVID, [Qantas is] using that as an excuse, pushing this insecure work to workers who are on casual arrangements. They don’t know when the next piece of work will come and are on very low rates of pay.”

Qantas said in response that COVID has meant it has 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.

Qantas 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’.

The TWU has also secured the services of Waterfront dispute lawyer Josh Bornstein, who said last year 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.”

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7 Comments

  • William

    says:

    Wonder how much of union money is being spent on the legal battle?

    • Warwick

      says:

      Not only unions’ Subscriptions’, William, but my question is their ‘favoured’ political party, ie ALP, contributing huge amounts’ of $$$$ into these vindictive forays’ against QANTAS?
      Sheldon’s had a possible ‘personal vendetta’ against the Company since the fleet grounding, in 2011. He can’t cope with rejection.
      They’ve already lost TWO court cases’ against the Airline the last six months’, so, hopefully, they maybe heading for their third!

  • Paul Rigg

    says:

    Why has no one mentioned that Alan Joyce has effectively out sourced Australian Jobs to China. Swissport is owned by the HNA group, the parent company of Hainan Airlines. Alan Joyce is slowly selling off Qantas and making it a paper airline that just owns a tail, everything is outsourced. I doubt very much I would ever fly Qantas again

    • Ashley

      says:

      Swissport was sold last December to a group of international financial brokers’.
      It’s NO longer owned by a Chinese business.

    • Kent

      says:

      Your knee jerk reaction of not wanting to fly QANTAS again, is your loss.
      There are nearly 14mn QANTAS FF’s who’d certainly disagree with you!

  • Rafferty

    says:

    William, from Qantas propaganda department said: “Wonder how much of union money is being spent on the legal battle?”

    Wonder how much shareholders money QF are prepared to spend on the battle? It’s usually a vast sum.

    • William

      says:

      ‘Rafferty’? Your ‘name’ probably has ‘bw’ as initials!
      You’ve no idea how airlines’ work.
      You assume, which is a really stupid thing to do, that there’s a ‘propaganda department’ at QANTAS.
      Did you really expect the Company not to fight a legal challenge? How naive.
      How the Airline pays for this is none of your business.
      If you’re a shareholder, there’s an inherent risk in buying shares in ANY business.
      This is understood by most people entering into this type of arrangement.

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