Qantas ground workers are ‘distraught’ over the outsourcing of their jobs as the airline finalises contracts with new suppliers this week, the Transport Workers Union says.
The airline said on Thursday it finalised contracts this week with seven ground handling and aircraft cleaning companies, following its November decision to outsource work at 10 Australian airports.
The union says workers have been left feeling like “disposable cogs in the machine”.
The change to some of the new suppliers will begin in coming weeks, with the first group of affected workers to leave the business, many of whom were stood down without work for the past nine months, according to the union.
TWU assistant national secretary Nick McIntosh said the workers were being replaced because Qantas wanted the work done cheaper.
“Qantas workers are distraught and flabbergasted that the airline they’ve given years of their lives to has treated them as disposable cogs in the machine,” he said.
“Their jobs are not redundant. Qantas still needs people to clean, load and push back their planes.”
Mr McIntosh said the workers gave the airline decades of hard work and loyalty before being cruelly axed and outsourced mid-pandemic.
“Last year, they were forced to go through the humiliation of bidding for their own jobs, only to be sacked in the new year anyway,” he said.
“Now the airline will never again employ another baggage handler, cabin cleaner or pushback driver.”
The pandemic was a “convenient excuse” for the national carrier, which planned to outsource these operations a decade ago, Mr McIntosh claimed.
He said the move was about driving down wages and conditions in aviation.
Qantas said it had consulted extensively with the union since its decision.
“This isn’t a reflection on our people but a reflection of economies of scale and the urgent need we have because of COVID to unlock these efficiencies,” a spokesman said.
“We are providing these employees with support as they prepare to leave the business.
“Restructuring our ground handling operations is a key part of our COVID-recovery plan, given the broader challenges we face.
“Outsourcing this function, which is what most airlines around the world have already done, will reduce our annual costs by $103 million and reduce spend on equipment by $80 million over five years.”
The group reported a $2.7 billion statutory loss in 2019-20 due to the health crisis and border restrictions.
More significant losses are projected this financial year due to a drop of revenue of more than $11 billion.
A total of 13,500 employees remain stood down.
“We have used these specialist ground handlers at many Australian airports for decades and they’ve proven they can deliver a safe and reliable service more efficiently than it’s currently done in-house,” the spokesman said.
Qantas said letters confirming final redundancy payouts would be sent in coming days, with the transition likely finished by March, with extra groups of workers leaving between now and then.
Affected employees will be provided a redundancy package and given support to change to new jobs outside the business, the airline says.
A small number of employees will be redeployed into other parts of the business.
The union has brought Federal Court action against Qantas over the outsourcing.
Qantas will defend the action, which is due to be heard in April.