This article appears on the Australian Financial Review.
The Transport Workers Union has recruited EY and top employment lawyer Josh Bornstein of Maurice Blackburn as it looks to decide whether to submit an in-house bid aimed at preventing Qantas from outsourcing over 2000 ground handling staff.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine confirmed on Sunday that the union is considering an offer which will have to meet Qantas’ requirements to save $100 million in annual staffing costs and another $80 million the strained airline says it will need to upgrade equipment over the next five years.
“EY will give us the expertise we need to assess the criteria and conditions set by Qantas management for workers to bid for their own jobs,” Mr Kaine said. “We aim to ensure Qantas supplies us with all the information workers need before making a decision on whether to bid for their jobs.”
It is the first step from the union towards possibly submitting an in-house bid, which Qantas would be required to consider against tenders from third parties under the industrial agreement.
However, the same constraints do not bind budget subsidiary Jetstar, where outsourcing will cost 370 jobs.
The low-cost carrier has already decided it will outsource work at six airports across the country. Its preferred supplier is Swissport at the Cairns, Avalon and Sydney Domestic airports; Oceania Aviation at Brisbane Domestic and Menzies Aviation at Melbourne Domestic. Dnata is preferred for Melbourne International and Adelaide airports.
Jetstar is yet to make a final decision on suppliers.
Ground handling covers a mix of services operated on an aircraft parked at a terminal, such as baggage handling, refuelling and cleaning.
Qantas announced late last month it would look to outsource this work at 10 domestic airports, potentially costing 2000 employees their jobs at the national carrier and prompting a furious response from the TWU. Both it and Virgin Australia already outsource at most airports out of which they operate.
The union has staged marches, taken the airline to the Fair Work Commission and delivered a letter to Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce’s residence in the weeks since.
Mr Kaine said the TWU had engaged Mr Bornstein due to the similarities to the 1998 Waterfront dispute where the veteran industrial relations practitioner first made his name.
That case saw stevedore Patrick Corporation lock out and dismiss its unionised workforce, moves the Federal Court subsequently found to be illegal.
Mr Bornstein called outsourcing a “scourge” and said such practices had failed catastrophically during the pandemic, a reference to the bungled hotel quarantine operation in Victoria and crisis in the aged care sector.
“The only winners of outsourcing are shareholders. Qantas is trying to exploit the pandemic to benefit shareholders,” he said. “Where you have an intact workplace and direct control over the workforce, you have much better control over the quality of the services you deliver.”
Qantas, in response, said these allegations disrespect its process and said it had to cut costs where it could during the pandemic.
“We are currently responding to the biggest crisis the aviation industry has ever seen and must take drastic action in order to survive. This includes looking at every opportunity to make our operations more efficient,” a spokesman said.
The pandemic has crushed travel activity and demand since the beginning of the year. Qantas dived to a near $2 billion loss off the back of the crisisand, including the outsourcing, is planning on sacking nearly a third of its pre-pandemic staff.
About 20,000 more employees remain stood down at the airline.
Qantas has recently launched lobbying efforts aimed at convincing politicians to relax state border restrictions to increase its ability to fly in recent weeks too.