Outsourcing Qantas jobs is ‘un-Australian’, say workers, as they make last-ditch bid to save more than 2,000 positions
Kym Meyer has worked as a Qantas baggage handler for 18 years and never thought he would be in the position of bidding for his job.
But Mr Meyer is one of about 2,100 ground workers — doing the airline’s baggage handling, ramp work and cabin cleaning — who are fighting to keep their jobs after Qantas revealed plans in August to move to outsource the work.
Jetstar has already outsourced ground handling roles, costing about 370 jobs.
The planned cuts come on top of 6,000 already announced redundancies across Qantas’ workforce revealed in June, and workers and the unions are warning there is a risk for Qantas passengers if this work is outsourced.
The company, like many other airlines around the world, has said it needs to lower costs due to the massive financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Qantas workers impacted by the planned outsourcing move are employed across Australia, including at airports in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Alice Springs and Canberra.
They have now submitted a bid for their own jobs.
Accounting firm EY has been working on the in-house bid on behalf of Qantas workers and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) since August.
“We all like our jobs; we don’t want to lose our jobs,” Mr Meyer told ABC News.
“Everyone is prepared to help [the airline] get through this.”
Mr Meyer, who is also a TWU union member, had worked with Ansett for eight years before the company collapsed.
He is among tens of thousands of workers who were stood down by Qantas since late March when the coronavirus pandemic travel bans were introduced.
He has a wife and daughter and has been mainly relying on his wife’s income as a cleaner to pay the bills. The family had to pull $10,000 out of his superannuation savings in order to meet their mortgage repayments.
Mr Meyer hopes the company will listen to the workers and see they have a strong case.
“We’ve shown our bid is competitive with any outside offers — we don’t believe the outsourcing should go ahead,” he said.
Fear safety could be compromised
Mr Meyer fears what will happen to safety if jobs are outsourced.
“There’s no doubt that when airlines use a third party the safety’s not the same,” he said.
“Outsourcing is just labour hire. They need to make a profit for what they’re doing.
“They [labour hire companies] put more pressure on staff to get their work done. So naturally things get missed.”
Leonie Piggott is another worker bidding for her job.
She has worked as a cabin cleaner with Qantas for two and a half and has been surviving on JobKeeper since she was stood down in March.
She wants Qantas to reverse its decision to outsource jobs, especially for long-time employees.
“It’s un-Australian what they’re doing to 2,500 families,” she said.
“The jobs still exist. It’s not like the jobs aren’t there anymore.”
“The pandemic is not their fault or our fault. It’s just something that’s happened. But for them [Qantas management] to use the pandemic as a cover to try profit is not right.
“We just want to go back to our jobs when international flights are up and running again.”
Ms Piggott, a TWU member, also fears safety could be impacted.
“They [Qantas] are just trying to outsource these jobs to save money, but they will get people who aren’t as highly trained,” she said.
“The safety standards won’t be as high as what Qantas staff have provided.”
Qantas to review worker bids
A Qantas spokesman said the company had received the in-house bid from its ground handling employees and thanked them for the work they had done preparing it.
“COVID has meant airlines have to make fundamental changes to their operations, and whether this work remains in-house or is done by specialist ground handlers, it has to be more efficient in the future,” he said.
“We’ll review the bid against the tenders we’ve received from external suppliers and will provide an update to employees once a decision has been made.”
Qantas has previously estimated about $100 million a year can be saved by outsourcing, and another $80 million saved by avoiding large spending on equipment.
It has also said outsourcing would allow it to match ground handling services with fluctuating levels of demand, on the basis that Qantas expects its flying schedule to be more variable during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Qantas Group posted a $2.7 billion loss for the 2020 financial year and suffered a $4 billion hit to its revenue.
The airline is expecting another significant loss this financial year and expects revenue to fall by another $10 billion.
In October, Qantas chairman Richard Goyder told investors at the company’s annual general meeting that the union claim that outsourced ground handlers were unsafe was not true.
He noted that these ground handlers already support Qantas and Jetstar’s operations at 55 airports around the country.
And he said analysis of safety reports over the past two years showed that external ground handlers working for the Qantas Group were no less safe.
Mr Goyder had said the group’s use of outsourced providers was assessed by Australian regulator CASA, and its ongoing international accreditation through global body IATA required effective oversight of outsourced ground handling.
The airline also conducted audits of all ground handlers on their safety performance, including injury rates, he said.
Union says savings can be made in other ways
But TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said “Qantas workers should be allowed to do Qantas work”.
Mr Kaine also feared that safety and security standards could slip if jobs were outsourced.
“We only need to look at the appalling example of Swissport, the preferred bidder for the Qantas work, to see what could befall the airline,” he said.
“[This includes] chronically fatigued and underpaid workers, safety and security breaches, deliberate understaffing and high injury rates.
“Considering the amount of public money which has been pumped into Qantas since the pandemic hit, the community has a right to expect better standards.”
Mr Kaine said the Federal Government had given more than $1 billion to the aviation industry, including more than $800 million to Qantas, since the pandemic hit, with no conditions attached on retaining jobs or capping CEO salaries.
He said if 2,500 workers keep their jobs, big savings could be made by not having to give tens of millions of dollars in redundancy payments.
“Pay and conditions won’t go down, but increases will be put on hold,” Mr Kaine said.
Workers had already identified areas of efficiencies with Qantas, which Mr Kaine said included changes to rostering. This, he said, had been done centrally but did not take into account systems specific to each airport.
There could also be changes such as “cross-utilisation” so that workers could be deployed across the airport between the ramp work on the tarmac and in the bag room.
The Senate recently set up an inquiry into the future of the aviation industry and will report back at the end of March.