Unions say Qantas job cuts 'must be reversed'

The full nationalisation of Qantas could be one step along the pathway towards a fully publicly-owned airline industry.

Unions covering the aviation sector have condemned the decision by Qantas management to sack 6000 staff and keep a further 15,000 workers stood down indefinitely. The announcement on job cuts was made by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce on June 25.

Australian Services Union (ASU) assistant national secretary Linda White urged Qantas management to reverse its decision on job cuts and for the federal Coalition government to respond with a significant job saving package for the industry.

“This announcement by Qantas is premature and we’re calling on Alan Joyce and the Qantas board to engage with the federal government on an AviationKeeper package to protect jobs,” White said.

“It is time the federal government put aside its aversion to targeted industry assistance and took some responsibility for shielding the aviation industry from mass job cuts.

“The country will bounce back, the industry will bounce back and Qantas, with one of the best balance sheets of any of the airlines in the world, will be well placed when the health crisis eases and the economy picks up.

“But cutting jobs and capacity now will only hamstring the industry and economy — Qantas is shooting itself in the foot.

“If Qantas does not reverse its decision, we will fight for these jobs to be retained.”

The continuation of JobKeeper payments post-September as part of a bigger Aviation Keeper package is vital for both the industry and workers' survival as the recovery occurs, White said.

Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine accused Qantas of "sideswiping Australian workers." Kaine slammed Joyce's statement that the airline was moving to "right-size our workforce".

“Right-sizing. After 30 years working for this company, paying Australian taxes and building the proud Australian kangaroo, they are victims of right-sizing,” he said.

Qantas workers met with airline management on July 1 demanding to know why it is cutting 6000 jobs despite getting millions in wage subsidies from taxpayers, in the first major meeting since the redundancies announcement on June 25.

TWU secretary Kaine said workers were concerned that Qantas was using the pandemic crisis as an excuse to reduce staff numbers.

“The lives of these workers have been thrown into chaos in recent months and now they are worried they will lose their jobs. It beggars belief that an airline whose wages bill is being propped up by Australian taxpayers is slashing jobs ahead of a review on JobKeeper. We are demanding answers from Qantas as to why they are intent on moving ahead before a government announcement,” he said.

“We are working with aviation employers and [other] unions to impress upon government the serious ramifications of not extending this type of assistance beyond September for all aviation workers. We want Qantas to back AviationKeeper, an extension of Jobkeeper beyond September for all aviation workers, not do a unilateral solo run on destroying lives by cutting jobs.

“The federal government has still refused to give the aviation industry the certainty it needs and pledge support. This is disappointing for the thousands of workers at Qantas, Virgin and in the aviation companies which service them, as their jobs are in serious danger”.

Aviation workers have endorsed a national plan they want the government to implement which would see it take a greater role in regulating the industry, including: equity stakes for struggling businesses; ensuring workers are paid the same rate for the same work; making safety a number one priority; ensuring all airport workers stood down have access to Jobkeeper; and capping CEO pay.

A TWU survey of aviation workers showed 70% have been stood down from their jobs with almost 40% stating they have no income. More than 1000 cabin crew, airline caterers, cleaners, baggage handlers, ramp workers, security officials, refuellers and drivers responded, with almost 30% stating they have had to access their superannuation to get by. Almost half of the respondents were worried they wouldn't be able to support their families throughout the crisis, while 20% say they are worried they will lose their house.

ACTU president Michele O’Neil — who said the job cuts announcement proved Qantas had abandoned its workers in favour of profits — also took aim at Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The Coalition government’s refusal to extend JobKeeper payments to all aviation workers had left thousands without support, she said.

“They have prematurely decided to sack 6000 workers when, if there was a proper program of assistance, if we knew that JobKeeper was going to be extended, then of course that is a better outcome,” she said.

A large part of the airline industry’s problems go back to the early 1990s, when the Paul Keating Labor government privatised Qantas. It had been government-owned until 1993 and had the best safety record in the world. With a fully unionised workforce and secure wages and conditions, it also had one of the best track records for being on time.

This all changed when it was fully privatised. Re-nationalising Qantas could be the first step in developing an integrated public transport system, linked to a huge expansion of the national railway network with special priority given to the construction of a Very Fast Train network.

The whole community will pay for the associated ecological costs of air travel when the COVD-19 lockdowns are lifted. The full nationalisation of Qantas could be one step along the pathway towards a fully publicly-owned airline industry and mass transport sector, including the establishment of a national high speed rail service.

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