Misappropriations and rorts mean Qantas must be renationalised

September 13, 2023
Qantas illegally sacked thousands of workers during the pandemic. Inset: Former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Image: Green Left

Soon after Qantas announced it had made its largest profit in its entire history — $2.5 billion in one year — its rags—to-riches CEO stepped down.

From misappropriating JobKeeper funds, the illegal sacking of thousands of workers and Alan Joyce’s enormous “pay” rises, the scandals associated with Qantas are piling up.

They provide ample reasons for why the airline should be renationalised.

During the pandemic in 2020, Qantas illegally outsourced around 2000 ground staff, including baggage handlers and cabin cleaners working at 11 airports, and began using third-party providers including Dnata, Menzies and Swissport.

It lost a Federal Court case over the sackings that year, and again on appeal in 2022. However, the Federal Court did not force Qantas to reinstate the sacked workers. It is now awaiting another appeal — in this case to the High Court — due on September 13.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently announced it was taking legal action against the airline for allegedly selling tickets to more than 8000 flights it had already cancelled.

Echo Law began a class action in August on behalf of thousands of people whose Qantas flights were cancelled during the pandemic. It is seeking damages, as well as refunds, for those who were not able to retrieve their money ($570 million in outstanding travel credits) or points.

Despite crying poor, Joyce was happily awarding himself a six-figure pay rise, taking his total package to more than $2.27 million last September. Apparently, this was 77% below his remuneration before the pandemic — around $24 million.

Despite this Treasurer Jim Chalmers has made it clear that Qantas will not have to pay back the $2.7 billion in public subsidies (including $900 million from JobKeeper) it received from the former Coalition government.

As if to soften the impact of that decision in a cost-of-living crisis, Labor Senator Tony Sheldon, a former Transport Workers Union leader, said the whole Qantas board needed to resign, not just Joyce, for its illegal sackings and consumer rip-offs.

Workplace relations minister Tony Burke has joined in the chorus of criticism of the airline’s reliance on labour-hire firms, but stopped short of calling for reinstating the sacked workers.

No Labor MP has raised the call for Qantas to be renationalised.

But Greens MP for Ryan Elizabeth Watson-Brown has, arguing that its privatisation has not improved the service or reduced costs. 

As Labor is fixated on “market solutions”, it is likely to be persuaded to back away from blocking Qatar Airways from doubling its flights into some of Australia’s busier ports.

And with ever-loyal media focussed on narrowing the discussion down to demonising a villain, real lessons from the Qantas privatisation debacle are not being learned.

Qantas should be renationalised: it could be the start of developing a more integrated, climate-friendly public transport system, which is linked to the massive expansion of a national, very fast train network.

Argentina renationalised its airline in 2008, after years of financial scandals, proving that it can be done.

Instead of publicly subsidising private corporations that go on to kick their workforce in the teeth and treat customers in much the same way, Qantas should be renationalised under workers’ control.

A transparent and accountable board of workers could run it in the public interest, with fair pay and conditions.

In a climate-challenged world, the airline industry has to be integrated into less polluting forms of transport. The only way to put social and ecological priorities first is to take the corporation out of the hands of those for whom profits are their only lens.

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