Qantas has confirmed the closure of its Avalon heavy maintenance facility and the axing of almost 300 jobs at the Victorian site from March next year.
Company domestic chief executive Lyell Strambi told a media conference in Sydney today the decision was forced by structural change in the industry.
He said Qantas rejected an offer for government assistance in the lead-up to the announcement.
Mr Strambi told reporters both the state and federal governments asked the question “what can they do to help”.
“I think the problem that we have is it is a structural change,” Mr Strambi said.
“While we could go to the government looking for a handout, then we would be going back to the government the following year looking for another handout – and a big one, and the following year for another one.
“We don’t want to get into that cycle because I don’t think that does the right thing by Qantas, nor does it do the right thing by the government or the people of Australia.”
Unions had also offered to take three months unpaid leave in an effort to close a 22 month gap in maintenance schedules.
Mr Strambi said those figures didn’t add up.
“That number is just not right. We’re facing 22 months (with no scheduled maintenance) over four years,” he said.
“The proposal the union put on the table was to deal with three months of that and that was not enough.
“Simply moving work around our network creates another problem at another facility.”
The federal government has already pledged to help affected workers who include 53 employees and 246 contractors.
The Australian Workers Union said Qantas had treated workers with contempt and should be ashamed about the closure of its heavy maintenance facility in Avalon.
Victorian secretary Ben Davis said workers were upset by the news they had received from Qantas in meetings.
“Qantas broke the hearts of workers this morning, this is devastating news for Qantas workers and their families,” Mr Davis told reporters at Avalon.
“Qantas should be ashamed of themselves, they have treated their workforce and their representatives … with contempt.”
Mr Davis said workers would not hesitate to move out of the state in search for work.
“If they want to continue in this profession they will have no choice,” he said.
The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas said there was no excuse for Qantas to shut the facility and put workers out of jobs.
Mr Purvinas said he believed the facility would be shut down in March with the work to be shipped to Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore despite Australian facilities being available.
He said he had safety concerns about the work being done offshore.
“There is no doubt that when Qantas close this facility and send those aircraft offshore, the aircraft will be less safe than what they were yesterday,” he said.
Mr Purvinas said the chance of retraining the Qantas workers who had lost their jobs would be difficult.
“These people cannot be retrained in the way that someone in a different industry can be. They have dedicated their lives and careers in this industry and they expect to be employed,” he said.
Mr Davis said he would be talking to workers about the opportunities for a redundancy.
Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos has pledged the normal government assistance will be provided to workers affected by the closure of Qantas’ heavy maintenance facility at Avalon.
Asked what federal assistance would be provided to those affected, Senator Sinodinos said “the normal mechanisms of government to help the workers involved to adjust to those circumstances will be made available”.
“This is a private decision, it’s not been affected by government policy,” he told Sky News.
The government would work with the local community and the state government about alternative jobs for affected workers at Avalon.