Qantas CEO accused of ‘throwing workers to the kerb’

Qantas has been accused of using COVID-19 as cover to sack thousands of Australian workers and replace them with cheap labour from overseas.

Qantas on Monday confirmed 2000 ground service jobs would be axed as part of the embattled airline’s cost overhaul which has been sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Ground servicing at 10 major Australia airports will be outsourced to a number of overseas aviation operators.

A union delegation arrived in Canberra on Thursday, demanding the government intervene to prevent the cuts.

Sean Toohey has been a Qantas groundworker at Canberra Airport for four years, before finding out his job had been cut via a prerecorded message on Monday.

He was told he would be required to stick around until the company transitioned away, and said finding a new job in the pandemic-stricken economy would be almost impossible.

“(Qantas CEO) Alan Joyce said we were a family and then pretty quickly threw us to the kerb,” he said.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has been accused of ‘throwing his workers to the kerb’.
Camera IconQantas CEO Alan Joyce has been accused of ‘throwing his workers to the kerb’. Credit: AAP, AAP/Bianca De Marchi

“We’re hoping the Australian public and the government get behind us to say this isn’t right. (Then) I can then tell my three girls that we do the right thing, that we look after each other.

“It’s not even about whether I did a good job or not. It’s just them bringing in someone who can do it cheaper than me.”

The decision came after months of reviews aimed at reducing the size of Qantas’s workforce. The airliner claimed the cuts were necessary given the devastating financial impact of COVID-19, despite receiving more than $800m in federal government support since the beginning of the pandemic.

Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine has accused Qantas management of using the pandemic as cover to force through a long-held plan to outsource work to cheaper, “substandard” companies.

Sean Toohey (left) was told he’d lost his job via a prerecorded message.
Camera IconSean Toohey (left) was told he’d lost his job via a prerecorded message. Credit: News Corp Australia, NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

“There are 2000 Australian families who are absolutely devastated as a result of a decision we now know was premeditated by Qantas management,” he said.

“A spear has been put through these families’ hearts. These are families who have worked for Qantas for up to 30 years. These are families who have literally built the Spirit of Australia.

“One hand on that spear is Qantas management, who have no excuse for this action.”

He said there was no financial justification for the decision, saying Qantas retained the JobKeeper supplement until March and was on the cusp of breaking even.

Qantas said the decision to retrench the workers would save the financially struggling airline $100 million per year.

Chief executive of domestic and international operations Andrew David said the industry had been turned “upside down” and would take years to recoup the financial damage caused by the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, COVID has turned aviation upside down. Airlines around the world are having to make dramatic decisions in order to survive, and the damage will take years to repair,” Mr David said in a statement on Monday.

Qantas said it will take years for the airline to reach pre-pandemic travel numbers, with international travel not expected to resume until at least the middle of 2021.

“International travel is likely to be at a virtual standstill until at least July next year, and it will take years to fully recover, which means we’re carrying the overhead for billions of dollars worth of aircraft in the meantime,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said on Thursday morning.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of having an ad hoc strategy over aviation cutbacks, but stopped short of demanding the government revoke subsidies for Qantas’s domestic flights.

Anthony Albanese is calling on the government to intervene on behalf of the workers.
Camera IconAnthony Albanese is calling on the government to intervene on behalf of the workers. Credit: News Corp Australia, NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

“(These workers) have done nothing wrong; they’ve just worked hard for their families to put food on the table. They’ve worked hard for Qantas, that great Australian business. They’ve been loyal, and throughout the country they’ve made a difference,” he said.

“But what we’re seeing in this market is there are too many people being left behind.”

Mr Albanese said one of the broader lessons of the pandemic was Australia’s need to shift away from casualisation towards secure, well-paid jobs.

The comments mirror those made by Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus on Wednesday, when she labelled casualisation a “virus” that had exposed Australia to coronavirus outbreaks.

Qantas is pushing ahead with plans to outsource 2000 Australian jobs.
Camera IconQantas is pushing ahead with plans to outsource 2000 Australian jobs. Credit: News Corp Australia, NCA NewsWire/James Gourley

ACTU president Michele O’Neil criticised the government for offering Qantas an economic parachute during the pandemic, without guarantees the airliner would not outsource Australian jobs.

“We’ve got government money going to companies without strings attached,” she said.

“At the very same time that money is being paid to a company like Qantas, that they have treated these workers in a cruel way, asking them to bid for their own jobs.

“And then after not even a week of considering that, they announced via recorded message that they weren’t wanted anymore.”

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Unions lose appeal to have Qantas pay sick leave to workers stood down due to coronavirus

A consortium of unions have lost an appeal in the Federal Court to have Qantas pay sick leave to the 25,000 workers who were temporarily stood down due to COVID-19.

The workers were stood down in March and have been unable to access sick, carers and compassionate leave.

In May, the Federal Court agreed Qantas staff could not access paid compassionate, personal or carer’s leave because there was no work for them to be absent from.

The court ruled if Qantas were required to pay leave entitlements after lawfully standing down its workers, that would defeat the purpose of having the staff furloughed in the first place.

The appeal case was backed by several unions, including the Transport Workers’ Union and the Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia.

On Friday, two of three Federal Court justices dismissed the appeal.

In their joint decision, Justice Steven Rares and Justice Craig Colvin said under the terms of the enterprise agreement, being stood down means an employee is not required to present for work, and therefore cannot take leave “because … there is no obligation to present for work from which leave may be taken”.

The justices agreed that allowing workers to be paid for taking time off work during a period where there was no work “would be somewhat paradoxical”.

At the centre of the union’s appeal was the case of two workers who had been with Qantas for 30 years; one is battling cancer and another has heart disease.

The unions tried to argue Qantas should have paid the workers sick leave during the stand-down period.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said Qantas had let its workers down at their most vulnerable time.

“The ruling will devastate these workers, many of whom are battling serious illness and are struggling to pay bills and support their families,” Mr Kaine said.

“For a company which last year announced its CEO earned $24 million, this is a slap in the face.”

Qantas staff can still access annual leave, long service leave and JobKeeper payments.

Qantas has been approached for comment.

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Joyce, Andrews meet over plan for Qantas to call Melbourne home

Mr Joyce also toured Melbourne Airport on Wednesday to scout out potential locations for Qantas’ operations. Qantas has said it is looking to move its Brisbane-based heavy aircraft maintenance facilities, which employ 750 workers, as well as its flight training simulators currently based in Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Andrews, whose government this week unveiled a $49 billion budget spending spree to create 400,000 jobs over the next five years and drag it out of its COVID-19 recession, said in September he would pitch aggressively for Qantas to call Victoria home.

Dan Andrews said in September he was keen to get Qantas to call Victoria home.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“We think that we have a very attractive offer to make and we’ll work through that to try and have as many jobs as we possibly can in our city and state,” Mr Andrews said at the time, adding his proposal would cover both office and engineering jobs.

It is not clear whether Victoria has made a formal proposal to Qantas nor what the scope of any such proposal is. A spokesman for Mr Andrews did not comment further before deadline on Thursday.

Melbourne Airport CEO Lyell Strambi said he was proud to be contributing to Victoria’s efforts to lure Qantas south, with his airport estate being more than six times the size of Melbourne’s CBD and already home to commercial offices, hotels and logistics providers.


“We think there’s a really strong proposition that would be incredibly hard to match anywhere else,” Mr Strambi said. “The most recent commitments to airport rail underscore just how highly Victoria values aviation.”

Qantas is also talking to Queensland, South Australia and NSW sate governments about possible incentives packages. The airline has flagged one option could be to consolidate its office, training and engineering facilities at the new Western Sydney Airport, due to open in 2026.

The airline had expected to conclude its property review by the end of this year, but is now likely to announce a decision by April 2021.

Qantas’ decision to review its office footprint was prompted by the need to cut costs in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has devastated airlines globally and seen the Australian carrier announce around 8000 redundancies, or close to a third of its workforce.

State government incentives to lure employment to the state is not uncommon. Victoria gave retailer David Jones a taxpayer handout to move 820 head office jobs from Sydney to Melbourne in 2016, while a bidding war for Virgin Australia’s head office after it went into administration in April ended with Queensland making a $200 million investment to keep it based in Brisbane.

The Queensland government also gave Qantas financial support two years ago to build its new $35 million flight school in Toowoomba.

Meanwhile, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said in September that the state would offer “every assistance to Qantas so they can keep as many of their employees as possible in NSW”.

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global airline body distances itself from Qantas vaccine stance

Joyce told A Current Affair this week that passengers would be required to be vaccinated in order to fly.

“We will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft… for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country we think that’s a necessity,” Joyce said.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce said in an interview on Monday night that he would require vaccines for all passengers on his international flights.Credit:

Qantas did not respond when asked for details of when the rule would come into effect, how it would be policed and whether there would be any exemptions.

The Australian government says it will not be compulsory to be vaccinated but Qantas believes it will be an inevitable requirement for anyone leaving and entering the country.

There are currently three vaccines poised for approval – two of which Australia has secured supplied – although any mass roll-out of the jabs is not expected until March.


When asked by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age if the rest of the airlines would copy Qantas’ stance, IATA’s CEO Alexandre de Juniac said the subject was a “bit premature.”

“For the moment, we have had this very good news on the vaccine but it is a bit premature to say when and how the vaccination progress will be spread all around the world and the whole world will be done,” de Juniac said.

“What we think is the emergency now is to implement the testing process.”

IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac says anticipated total losses for global airlines continue to rise.

IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac says anticipated total losses for global airlines continue to rise.Credit:Bloomberg

Juniac said that even if the vaccines prove viable next year, it would take the global aviation industry at least four years to recover from the swathe of travel bans and restrictions imposed around the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We cannot wait for the vaccine to be deployed, otherwise we’ll all be dead.

“Testing is the key priority .. the key issue [is] to remove the travel restrictions, that is the point I think we should focus on.”

“An immediate solution already exists, we could safely open borders today with systematic COVID-19 testing,” he said.

He said the IATA digital travel pass or smartphone app launched on Monday, was part of the solution and said the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble would be a litmus test.

The industry said global airlines were projected to lose $US157 billion ($214 billion) due to pandemic restrictions and warned some airlines were due to run out of cash before any boost from vaccines would materialise.

IATA said passenger numbers for 2020 were expected to slump to a level – of 1.8 billion – last seen in 2003. They were expected to grow by 1 billion in 2021 although this is still 1.7 billion short on 2019 levels.

The association said the industry would not return to its pre-pandemic strength until 2024 and warned of further cost-cutting and the need for government bailouts, above the $US173 billion ($236 billion) that has already been offered around the world.

“This must not further increase debt,” de Juniac said.

However the CEO of JetBlue, Robin Hayes said he was optimistic that by mid-next year there would be enormous “momentum” for the travel industry fuelled by “pent-up demand” from people who had delayed and cancelled trips as the pandemic bore down.


The CEO of German carrier Lufthansa Carsten Spohr agreed: “Everybody I talk to in my circle of friends or family is just so ready to travel again – they were even jealous that I was allowed to go to Geneva from Munich yesterday.”

“So I think that’s going to be a huge push, the industry will see that our customers want to come back to us.”

A boost in cargo from 12 per cent in 2019 to 36 per cent in 2020 provided a small reprieve for airlines but this was nowhere near enough to offset losses from passenger declines.

The task of distributing the vaccines, at least three of which are expected to be approved in coming weeks, will contribute to further boosts in cargo loads next year.

IATA is working on a massive distribution program with the World Health Organisation but de Juniac said this would also require an easing of restrictions.

“Borders must be open for distribution – cold chain (temperature-sensitive) logistics , facilities need to be available and security measures must be airtight,” he said.

Governments, including Australia’s, have underwritten commercial operators by increasing their flight cargo exports as a way of keeping repatriation flights open.

According to IATA data, airlines in the Asia Pacific and North America suffered the biggest losses.

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Qantas will ban travellers who don’t have the COVID vaccine — can other businesses follow suit?

Does a government have to pass a law to make something compulsory, or can businesses make it a must-have anyway?

The world is about to find out, after Qantas CEO Alan Joyce declared international travellers must have a COVID-19 vaccine to get on a flight.

It looks like the vaccine won’t be mandatory for Australians at home.

But whether people will have access to their favourite goods and services if they don’t get the vaccine is more complicated.

Will the vaccine be compulsory for Australians?

The short answer is no, but it’s clear the Government wants as many people as possible to have it.

In August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expected the vaccine “to be as mandatory as you can possibly make it”.

But just hours later, Mr Morrison said that the Government would not make vaccination mandatory for anybody.

“It’s not going to be compulsory to have the vaccine,” he said.

Will it be mandatory for international travellers?

Although Australians won’t have to be vaccinated, it’s becoming more likely that international travellers will.

The Government’s own vaccination policy already notes it could be mandatory for international travellers.

“While the Australian Government strongly supports immunisation and will run a strong campaign to encourage vaccination, it is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate,” it says.

“There may however, be circumstances where the Australian Government and other governments may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination.”

Travel has ground to a halt during the pandemic.(Flickr: Jo Christian Oterhals)

And travel to some countries already requires a vaccine.

For example, the Smart Traveller website tells Australians to carry their yellow fever vaccination certificate when travelling to Brazil, saying “you may need it to enter”.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said today that “early guidance” would be that international arrivals would be expected to be vaccinated or face quarantine.

Mr Hunt’s comments suggest those who can’t have the vaccine, for example those who are immunocompromised, will still be able to travel.

What is the air travel sector doing?

Qantas has declined to elaborate on the comments made by Mr Joyce yesterday.

But Mr Joyce isn’t the only one thinking about changes to international travel.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a group of 297 airlines including Qantas, is calling for systematic COVID-19 testing of all international travellers.

Melbourne Airport plane landing.
Airlines are driving the development of a digital passport that will share vaccination information.(ABC News: James Hancock)

To help support this, it announced on Tuesday morning that it was in the final development phase of a new vaccine passport app.

This will record if someone has been vaccinated, and share the information with airlines and immigration authorities.

It’s due to be piloted later this year, ahead of a launch early in 2021.

Simon Westaway, the head of the Australian Tourism Industry Council, said requiring travellers to have a coronavirus vaccination could act as a “circuit breaker” for disruptions across the sector.

He argued Australia should also consider introducing rapid COVID-19 testing at airports, as used in a number of other countries.

“I think rapid testing is really starting to prove its worth, it’s important that authorities give that absolutely full berth,” he said.

“I do think you’re going to need a combination or a suite of really efficient, easy measures to give people confidence in travel, but importantly to have operators and authorities to have that confidence as well.”

What are businesses in Australia planning to do?

A vaccine is unlikely to be available until March, so it’s still too early for many businesses to be considering whether or not they will require customers to have it.

The National Retailers Association hasn’t received any feedback from members or had any discussions yet.

Coach operator Murrays said it was too soon to say if passengers would face vaccination rules.

But the Australian Dental Association said dentists would accept people without vaccinations.

A dentist operates on a child.
The Australian Dental Association has pledged to welcome even those without the COVID vaccine.(ABC RN: Fiona Pepper)

“The fact is, visiting the dentist has always been safe to attend and there is no reason not to visit your dentist,” a spokesperson said.

“But we can understand why Qantas wants to introduce a system of proof, as they will have passengers huddled together for long periods of time on flights.”

The AFL and NRL did not respond to requests for comment when asked if fans would face vaccination requirements.

Can businesses discriminate based on the vaccine?

In May, then-chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said employers and workers should turn away sick employees and visitors, and said the Government would “protect” and “defend” them if they did so.

The Government has sought to increase the rate of vaccinations in the past.

When he was social services minister in 2015, Scott Morrison introduced the ‘no jab, no play’ scheme which withheld welfare payments from families who conscientiously objected to vaccinations.

On the other hand, it has shown respect to those reluctant to download the COVIDSafe app.

When legislating for the COVIDSafe app earlier this year, the Government included provisions that made it a crime to coerce someone to use the app by refusing entry.

But refusing someone a service because they do not have a vaccination due to medical reason could be illegal under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Paula O’Brien, senior lecturer at Melbourne Law School, is part of a group studying the legal implications of a vaccine for businesses.

“Anti-discrimination law and human rights law are two major areas for businesses to consider when working out a policy on mandatory COVID vaccination,” Dr O’Brien said.

She said hospitals, aged care and childcare facilities had already had to deal with employment issues around vaccination of employees, but COVID-19 was pushing these issues into new realms.

“While some businesses have navigated this around staff before, it’s new to be navigating it around customers,” she said.

Whatever has happened in the past, laws today are more fluid than they have been. An emergency period under the Biosecurity Act is still in place.

This has allowed the Government to overwrite other laws to prevent and control COVID-19, including restricting cruise ships and international travel.

The period was extended in September until December 17.

Will I have to pay for the vaccine?

No, the Government has promised the vaccine will be free and available to Australians in 2021.

But this will come at a cost to taxpayers. 

The Government is spending more than $3.2 billion on COVID-19 vaccines.

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Do you still need a border pass to enter QLD? Restrictions to end as Qantas and Jetstar bolster flights

Two of the nation’s major airlines have slashed fares on flights between Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria as the Sunshine State’s borders prepare to reopen.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made the captain’s call on Tuesday, with Greater Sydney’s hotspot declaration to be revoked on December 1.

The premier said Queensland will also reopen to Victoria next Tuesday, assuming the state surpasses the 28-day threshold on Wednesday.

Families and travellers from NSW and Victoria can finally swap border passes for boarding passes, allowing them to make their plans for the upcoming holiday season.

Two of the nation’s major airlines have slashed fares on flights between Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria as the Sunshine State’s borders prepare to reopen.  Credit: Getty Images

To go hand-in-hand with the announcement, Qantas and Jetstar will operate more than 1,200 flights into the Sunshine State before Christmas.

From December 1, the airlines will operate more than 250 return flights per week across seven routes from Sydney.

More than 160 return flights per week will also operate between Victoria and Queensland, pending the border decision.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says the airline is buoyed by the border news.

Shoppers in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall (file image)
Business groups say Queensland’s border openings will boost confidence ahead of the holiday season. Credit: AAP

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