Qantas sackings to undermine manufacturing capacity: unions

Manufacturing unions are reeling at Qantas’s decision to sack hundreds of maintenance workers, claiming it is ‘short sighted’ and will decimate Australia’s manufacturing and engineering capacities – not to mention the country’s national security.

Yesterday the Qantas Group announced a restructure of the Qantas Airlines business, including consolidation of its heavy maintenance operations into Brisbane and Avalon, closing down the maintenance operation at Tullamarine, Sydney.

The business review was flagged in February this year, when Qantas said there could be job cuts at its Tullamarine, Avalon and Brisbane airports. 

The Qantas Engineers Alliance – made up of Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU), Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and Electrical Trades Union (ETU) members – is calling on the government to intervene, claiming the move will seriously undermine Australia's capacity to maintain aircraft now and into the future.

"This short-sighted decision by Qantas deserves to be roundly condemned,” said AMWU national secretary, Paul Bastian.

“Not only does it have a devastating impact on workers at Tullamarine and their families, it threatens the very capability of Australia to continue to maintain its aircraft.”

According to Bastian, Qantas employs 6,000, or almost two-thirds of Australia's total aircraft maintenance workforce, and is responsible for providing more than 50% of the training in the aircraft maintenance sector.

“It has a broader social responsibility as our national carrier, but this decision pays little heed to that,” said Bastian.

"The review that has led to this decision has failed to consider planning to ensure the nation's future capability to maintain aircraft. It has failed to look at long term plans such as sourcing maintenance work from other airlines in the region, choosing instead to shun national interests in favour of shareholder returns.”

The airline claims the restructure is necessary as there is currently not enough heavy maintenance work required for three separate facilities.

The move will reportedly maximise the benefits of the Group’s next-generation fleet of aircraft, meaning a further 60% reduction in heavy maintenance requirements over the next seven years.

Qantas has announced that heavy maintenance on Boeing 737 aircraft will move from Tullamarine and be maintained in Brisbane along with B767 aircraft and Airbus A330s.

The base at Avalon will reportedly continue to maintain Boeing 747s, and will also conduct some work on B737s and B767s, some aircraft reconfiguration work and remain available for one-off maintenance tasks.

Qantas will cease heavy maintenance at Tullamarine by August, however line maintenance will continue to be conducted at the facility employing more than 300 people, the airline says.

Qantas International and Qantas Domestic – currently combined as ‘Qantas Airlines’ – will become two separate businesses, each with its own CEO and its own operational and commercial functions.

The new structure, effective from 1 July 2012, is part of a five-year plan to transform its earnings, which began in August last year.

AWU secretary, Cesar Melham, said the alliance is concerned that this decision is the “thin edge of wedge” as fleets start to be retired.

"We are likely to see further loss of jobs at other sites and we have no guarantees from Qantas about how they will ensure the long term viability of aircraft maintenance in this country,” said Melham.

"We are calling on Government to immediately intervene and call an urgent aviation industry round table before any jobs and critical skills are lost. This should be done in the interests of our nation's capability and future security.”

Earlier this month, the AWU voiced its concern that the jobs of 250 maintenance personnel at the Richmond, New South Wales RAAF base may be at risk following Federal Budget defence cuts.

Though the government and Qantas Defence Services – which contracts the workers – have reportedly assured the AWU that no jobs will be lost immediately, the union is still concerned that valuable skills will be lost to other industries.