The union representing Qantas International check-in staff says it is going to Fair Work Australia today over threats to 230 jobs at Sydney airport.
Last week, the airline announced it will cut 5,000 positions over the next three years to save $2 billion over three years.
Australian Services Union NSW secretary Sally McManus says Qantas told Sydney International check-in staff that their jobs are in jeopardy instead of first consulting with the union.
“We’re shocked by this,” she said.
“Qantas has legal obligations to talk to the workers [and] their union before making such decisions and we’re extremely concerned.”
Ms McManus says Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has gone back on his word.
“We believe that they’ve been very clear, saying they’re going to offer redundancies to all of their full-time staff. They’ve actually put that in writing,” she said.
“This goes against what the CEO said … he announced there would be job losses but he said they had to consult with the unions first.”
Qantas has been lobbying the Federal Government for months to provide a standby debt guarantee or to change the Qantas Sale Act which restricts foreign ownership to 49 per cent.
However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week dashed the airline’s hope of a debt guarantee, saying that if the Commonwealth made it available to one company it would have to offer it to everyone.
Instead, Mr Abbott is expected to focus on the Qantas Sale Act which he has described as “a ball and chain” which restricts the airline’s ability to attract foreign investors.
Coalition hardliners, such as the Nationals leader Warren Truss, are sceptical of the Qantas claims and are reluctant to immediately support moves to overhaul the current foreign ownership restrictions.
Any move to change the Qantas Sale Act will be blocked by the Senate and last week Mr Abbott called on Labor to provide bipartisan support.
Qantas maintains the current limits put it at a disadvantage to its chief rival, Virgin Australia, which has been able to able to raise capital from three state-owned airlines – Air New Zealand, Ethihad and Singapore Airlines.
Qantas has rejected a compromise proposal to maintain the 49 per cent foreign limit while easing single ownership limits within the cap to manage fears that the airline could fall out of majority Australian ownership.
A spokesman told the ABC this morning: “You either level the playing field or not. Just tilting it doesn’t fix anything”.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens will ask for an inquiry into the future of Qantas when Parliament resumes today.
However, without Labor support the move is likely to fail.
Qantas has also refused to rule out the option of taking Virgin Australia to court over claims it has manipulated foreign ownership rules.
Last week, Qantas and Virgin revealed after-tax profit losses of $235 million and $84 million as a discounting war on domestic routes damages both airlines.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten says the airline should remain in Australia hands.
“Labor is prepared to work with the government on Qantas – the issue is too important for political games,” he said in a statement.
“But Labor will not stand by and let Tony Abbott send Qantas jobs overseas. This is Australia’s airline and it should remain in Australian hands.”
At the moment, any single foreign investor is limited to a 25 per cent stake in Qantas. Foreign airlines are limited to a 35 per cent share.
Labor’s treasury spokesman Chris Bowen says easing those limits may help in the longer term.
“Over time it may, but it’s not an immediate issue for Qantas. That’s why we’ve said we’ll look constructively at any proposal the Government is prepared to make,” he said.
“We’d look at any proposal sensibly, but the 51 [per cent Australian ownership] / 49 [per cent foreign ownership] is a red line for us.
“Certainly Qantas having access to more capital generally is not a bad thing, provided that 51/49 rule is maintained.”