Air transport industry unions have condemned Qantas for standing down 20,000 workers on March 19 as a result of COVID-19. Qantas announced its move a day after the Coalition handed airline companies a $715 million rescue package.
Transport Workers Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine said workers were effectively “bailing out the airline”. He condemned Qantas for wiping out “all worker entitlements, including long-service leave and accrued benefits”, as well as trying to eradicate unearned leave entitlements.
“This will set the company up for a massive boost when the crisis is over."
Kaine said Qantas was “shifting the entire burden of the impact of the coronavirus onto the workforce” in a deal cooked up with the federal government which has refused to meet with the union.
He added Qantas must indicate how many workers will be forced to take unpaid leave and whether the airline will credit workers their leave when the crisis abates.
Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks said federal financial assistance should be redirected to those who need it. “Qantas is a major company with healthy profit margins and well-remunerated upper management. The focus of financial relief efforts needs to be the working people who are most impacted by this crisis.”
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is also seeking to gobble up his competitor Virgin, calling on the federal government not to nationalise Virgin, which he said had been “badly managed for 10 years”. Joyce said Qantas was working on “making sure we are the last man standing”.
Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate Joyce’s “anti-competitive attacks”.
Meanwhile, a recent survey by the TWU found 50% of respondents supported the nationalisation of Qantas and 62% believe the government should receive shares in any companies it bails out.
University of Queensland Fellow in Economics John Quiggin told New Daily on March 18 that the renationalisation of some corporations was likely.
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.
Renationalising 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.