The TWU has hinted it will use new multi-employer bargaining laws to benefit now-outsourced workers who provide services to Qantas.
The law is expected to pass through parliament this week and allows “reasonably comparable” businesses to join together for a single agreement.
It follows the Federal Court ruling last year that Qantas was wrong to outsource 1,600 ground-handling roles. The union argued it meant employees were worse off because they were without the long-time enterprise agreements negotiated with Qantas.
In new comments to The Australian Financial Review on Wednesday, the TWU’s national secretary Michael Kaine said the new laws were a “lifeline for aviation workers” and the “multiple aviation companies” that engage them.
“When laws are in place, we intend to use them responsibly to get wages moving, working with aviation companies to pursue a more level playing field, enhancing job security, and stemming the splintering of work across our airports.”
Kaine argued Qantas had “gamed” the current system to fragment the workforce. Qantas has consistently denied this claim and argues it’s the highest-paying airline in the country.
Earlier this month, the Flying Kangaroo’s chairman, Richard Goyder, said the proposed reintroduction of multi-employer bargaining wouldn’t work because it ignores how different companies in an industry have different needs.
Speaking at the airline’s AGM, Goyder argued it would have a “massive” impact on productivity, growth and the ability to pay staff more.
“We’re concerned that lowering the bar for compulsory arbitration and enforcing multi-employer bargaining would effectively lead to centralised wage setting,” he said.
It came after chief executive Alan Joyce said multi-employer bargaining would have made it impossible for a business such as Jetstar to launch, adding new rules could “take us back to the 80s”.
Joyce said Jetstar “changed the aviation market” by introducing efficiencies that allowed for prices as low as $35.
“We did set up Jetstar with the aim of democratising air travel and allowing millions of people to travel for the first time,” he said.
“If there was multi-employer bargaining at the time, I’m not sure that would have happened, and a lot of other things wouldn’t have happened.”
Qantas also this month won the right to a final appeal against the Federal Court’s ruling that it was wrong to outsource 1,600 ground handlers.
In early 2021, the Flying Kangaroo moved to outsource ground handling operations at the 10 Australian airports where it was still running them in-house, including Adelaide, Brisbane, and Melbourne. This decision resulted in nearly 2,000 roles overall being made redundant.
Qantas has consistently denied it did anything unlawful, and will now be able to make its case at the High Court next year.