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Qantas loses ground crew outsourcing challenge



Qantas has lost a major court battle against the Transport Workers Union

The Federal Court has largely found in favour of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) against Qantas in a case challenging the outsourcing of about 2,000 ground crew jobs by the airline.

Justice Michael Lee was not convinced by evidence from Qantas and some of its senior executives that its decision to outsource the jobs was not motivated at least in part by the fact many were union members.

It is not clear yet what effect the decision will have on the workers whose jobs were outsourced.

In late November 2020, Qantas said its restructuring of ground handling operations, which included baggage handlers, push-back drivers, ramp workers, and aircraft cleaners, would see 2,000 jobs outsourced. 

Qantas argued doing so would see the airline save US$74 million annually.

The airline also said it would also avoid large capital spending on equipment such as aircraft tugs and baggage loaders, and better match the costs of ground handling with fluctuating demand.

Qantas went on to award contracts to Swissport and Menzies Aviation, after a bid by the TWU on behalf of employees was unsuccessful to keep them in their jobs.

In a statement, Qantas said it plans to appeal the Federal Court ruling.

“Qantas intends to appeal the Federal Court’s judgement that it contravened the Fair Work Act in outsourcing the remainder of its ground handling function.”

  • Qantas listed three “clear reasons” for its decision to transiton to contracted workers, and listed those reasons in its statement.
    • Using specialised companies could save Qantas up to $100 million a year – savings it desperately needed to unlock as part of its recovery from COVID.
    • It would also remove the need for Qantas to spend $80 million over five years on necessary ground handling equipment like tugs and baggage loaders.
    • Outsourcing would allow resources to be better matched with fluctuating levels of demand, especially when the same workforce is providing services to scores of airlines at the same airport. The need for this variability has been shown again by the latest set of lockdowns.

Today’s judgment does not mean Qantas is required to reinstate workers or pay compensation or penalties

 These matters have not yet been considered by the Court and Qantas will oppose any such orders.

Qantas will also seek to have its appeal heard as soon as possible and before any remedy hearing, the airline said.

Anthony Lucas is reporter, presenter and social media producer with ticker News. Anthony holds a Bachelor of Professional Communication, with a major in Journalism from RMIT University as well as a Diploma of Arts and Entertainment journalism from Collarts. He’s previously worked for 9 News, ONE FM Radio and Southern Cross Austerio’s Hit Radio Network. 

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