SYDNEY: Union leaders on Friday said Qantas boss Alan Joyce could not justify why he needs to cut 5,000 jobs during crisis talks as the carrier stepped up pressure on the government to help stem massive losses.
After a posting a A$235 million (US$210 million) loss in the six months to December 31, Joyce met union heavyweights to detail his decision to axe the jobs and freeze wages following complaints of no consultation and threats of strike action.
But Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver said his explanation was not good enough.
“The company was not able to justify how they came up with the 5,000 jobs number,” he told reporters.
Australian and International Pilots Association president Nathan Safe said “there’s still a lot of uncertainty and a real lack of clarity”.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon added: “The company has come to the table without the capacity to say what they’re actually up to and how this is going to save one single job in the future.”
The heavily unionised Flying Kangaroo was crippled by a series of rolling staff strikes in 2011 that culminated in Joyce grounding the entire fleet for two days, stranding tens of thousands of passengers worldwide.
Qantas’s drastic restructuring, which also involves deferring delivery of new aircraft, is part of a plan to save A$2 billion over the next three years as it battles record fuel costs and fierce competition from subsidised rivals.
Its major domestic competitor, Virgin Australia, is also suffering, posting its own first-half net loss of A$83.7 million on Friday, blaming its battle with Qantas for domestic market share and economic uncertainties.
Virgin chief John Borghetti urged the government to think carefully about the consequences if it helped bail out Qantas.
“Providing a financial facility to the detriment of the rest of the industry — as I hope our government and opposition agree — is wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said.
“It is not our place to tell government what to do, but any government or opposition should think very carefully before it decides to pick winners in an industry.”
Joyce wants the Qantas Sale Act, which limits foreign ownership in the airline to 49 per cent, changed so it can access more capital, while appealing for the government to guarantee the carrier’s debt.
“Having a national airline is a national interest,” said Joyce, who pointed to the carrier previously rescuing Australians in Egypt and Bali during times of turmoil.
“We are there at times of defence needs and there is a national interest for us.”
While Canberra said it was open to pushing for changes to allow majority foreign ownership — a move opposed by the Labor opposition and the Greens which can block it in the upper house Senate — it appears to be backing away from a debt guarantee.
“Airlines are providing essential services but there is more than one airline, and what you do for one business, you have to be prepared to do for all like businesses,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday.
“That’s the issue that we face with the request for a debt guarantee or a line of credit for Qantas.”
Joyce said Qantas only wanted “a fair go” on a level competitive playing field and that any debt guarantee would just be a standby facility to be used in an emergency.
“The best way to guarantee the security of Australian jobs is to have a profitable, fit Qantas that can compete in the current environment,” he said.