Qantas staff given a fortnight to decide

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speaks in the House against the Qantas bill. Picture: ANDREW MEARES
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speaks in the House against the Qantas bill. Picture: ANDREW MEARES

The next fortnight will be a stressful time for hundreds of Illawarra-based Qantas workers as they decide whether to take redundancy from the ailing company.

Last week the company announced it was slashing 5000 jobs and yesterday it began offering employees voluntary redundancies, stating they had just two weeks to make up their minds.

Acting secretary for the Illawarra sub-branch of the Transport Workers Union Nick McIntosh said Qantas's handling of the situation was "chaotic".

"It seems to be in dribs and drabs that Qantas is making its mind up or releasing this information," Mr McIntosh said.

"First the 5000 jobs, but not being told where they're coming from. Then being told they are voluntary redundancies but still not being told where they are coming from.

"It certainly doesn't answer any more questions."

Mr McIntosh said the speed of Qantas's announcements was also surprising because workers were usually given some time to digest such news.

"A week ago they've said, 'We're going to cut 5000 jobs but we're not really sure where they're coming from.'

"Now they're saying you've got two weeks to decide on voluntary redundancies. It's a pretty hard position to be in.

"It's a very, very stressful decision for people and their families to make. In two weeks to have to decide 'I can take the money and run, but where am I running to?'

"How are you going to work out in two weeks whether there's another job to run to?

"Even if there are some voluntary redundancies taken, if there's not enough, well, you're still as good a chance as anybody else to be made compulsorily redundant." Illawarra MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones have hit out at the federal government for pushing through legislation amending the Qantas Sale Act to remove foreign ownership limits.

"There are many Qantas workers who live in the Illawarra whose jobs are under threat from this legislation," said Ms Bird, the Member for Cunningham.

"To not allow representatives to stand up and fight for local jobs is just outrageous. It is a disgrace that the government has used their numbers to gag the debate on this major decision on our national airline."

Qantas has been ordered to consider giving workers and unions more detail about the reasons behind cutting 5000 jobs as it starts shedding almost one-third of check-in staff at Sydney international airport.

Qantas began offering its check-in staff voluntary redundancy yesterday, looking to cut about 90 full-time jobs from the 300 currently employed at its international terminal in Sydney.

Staff have been set a March 21 deadline to accept the packages, which also include the option of full-time employees converting to part-time.

A decision on which staff could take voluntary redundancy was set to be taken in early April, with the Australian Services Union arguing that the process was being rushed.

Following a two-hour hearing at Sydney’s Fair Work Commission yesterday, Commissioner Ian Cambridge ordered Qantas to consider extending the March 21 deadline by about two weeks.

Mr Cambridge also ordered Qantas to consider giving workers and the ASU  more detail about the rationale behind the job losses.

The airline was also asked to consider other options to mitigate job losses and that no-one be sacked while  discussions with the ASU continue.

‘‘We are happy with that proposal and we think it’s a fair one that will give workers at least some amount of dignity in a very difficult situation,’’ ASU NSW secretary Sally McManus said.

Qantas has been given until Sunday night to consider and respond to the proposals or the dispute will end up back at the Fair Work Commission for further arbitration.

Qantas lawyer Helen McKenzie told the hearing the airline had consulted workers and fully complied with industrial laws.

‘‘Full-time employees at Sydney International Airport were today given the option to consider to covert to part-time roles, which will better align staffing levels with peak periods at the airport, as well interest for a voluntary redundancy package,’’ the company said in a statement.

Meantime, the federal government attacked Labor for questioning whether allowing Qantas to send its maintenance operations offshore will lead to safety problems.

The new line of attack came as laws to remove the 49per cent cap on foreign ownership of the airline passed the House of Representatives 83 votes to 53, within four hours of being introduced yesterday morning. The legislation, however, is expected to fail in the Senate.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Qantas’s safety record did not depend on whether or not it was foreign-owned.

Transport minister Warren Truss  told Parliament the government would not be changing the Air Navigation Act, which would ensure Qantas’s international operations remained majority Australian-owned and based in Australia.   AAP