Qantas federal court case opens: outsourcing goes on trial

Aviation workers’ federal court case against Qantas opens today over the outsourcing of 2,500 jobs, with the TWU set to argue that the move opens the door for companies to trash collective agreements with their workforces and replace them with insecure workers on lower wages and conditions.

The TWU will also argue Qantas planned the targetting of it ground workers long before the airline’s COVID-related difficulties.

The case led by the architect of the Maritime Union’s successful litigation during the waterfront dispute, lawyer Josh Bornstein, takes aim at the legality of Qantas’s plans to outsource its ground workers outlining that it breaches the Fair Work Act.

Despite the court case pending since December, Qantas has already axed all its baggage handlers, ramp workers and cabin cleaners in recent months.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said workers are bravely pursuing Qantas over contraventions of industrial law.

“Today’s court case is a test of whether the Fair Work Act allows a company like Qantas to get rid of its workers who have fought for decent wages and conditions and replace them insecure workers on lower wages. If Qantas gets away with trashing 2500 jobs, it never will have to bargain with the workers who replace them again. It can simply set the price for their wages and tell the labour hire company ‘take it or leave it’. For a country like Australia in the midst of a wages growth crisis this is a catastrophe,” Kaine said.

“Qantas’s behaviour to its workers makes the recent aviation package announced by the Federal Government all the worse, which was essentially a Qantas bail out with no conditions. Despite receiving over a billion dollars of public funding over the last year Qantas has: pocketed worker entitlements including the sick leave of terminally ill workers, punished a health and safety rep for giving legitimate advice, allowed a covid cluster to spread in the workplace, and outsourced loyal workers in the middle of a pandemic. Workers are standing up to vindictive Qantas management with this case and reminding them that no one is above the law,” Kaine continued.

Qantas workers at 10 airports including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Alice Springs and Canberra have now lost their jobs, which have been outsourced to workers on less wages and conditions. The TWU has received reports that the workers Qantas has brought in are using the same ageing equipment the airline said it needed to save costs upgrading by outsourcing its ground work.

In November Qantas announced it had rejected workers’ in-house bid for their own jobs, which was assisted by EY, despite the significant cost savings and retention of highly trained workers it provided.

Qantas announced scandal-ridden Swissport would get a major portion of the outsourced work, getting around 1,000 of the jobs. Swissport, which has been exposed over low paid workers on gruelling split shifts forced to sleep at the airports, has failed over almost five years to get a new enterprise agreement in place, with the Fair Work Commission rejecting successive deals because they do not meet minimum standards.

Aviation workers have two live High Court challenges against Qantas, one for the refusal to pay terminally ill workers their sick leave and another over the misuse of JobKeeper to pocket workers’ overtime and penalty rates.

Qantas revealed in its annual report last year it is paying its senior executives millions of dollars. When Qantas announced last year its CEO received $24 million pay package he was the highest paid CEO in Australia and the highest paid airline executive in the world.

Qantas workers shared their stories of mistreatment at the recent Senate Inquiry into aviation which was set up to look at Government and industry failings to date and set out recommendations for support into the future.

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