Pressure is building on Labor to give way to Government plans that would allow Qantas to sell a majority stake in domestic operations to foreign investors, as the company begins to carve up its workforce.
The Federal Government will this morning introduce legislation to remove all foreign ownership restrictions from Qantas, despite it facing certain defeat in the Senate.
Labor and the Greens are refusing to back the Government’s legislation to lift the Qantas Sale Act, which ensures the airline remains majority owned by Australian investors.
Labor wants the Government to provide the airline with a debt guarantee, something the Coalition has ruled out.
Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese was yesterday forced to defend his stance after a former Qantas executive and Kevin Rudd advisor said he had supported lifting the Qantas Sale Act in 2009.
“We had the then minister, Anthony Albanese, prepared to support changes to the Sale Act,” David Epstein said.
“We had the tacit support of the Opposition. The only issue was that both sides were worried it was going to be politicised in 2010 during an election year and they ran out of legislative time.”
But Mr Albanese said he has never advocated that Qantas should be “anything other than a majority Australian-owned airline”.
Treasurer Joe Hockey said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten could not be a protectionist and an interventionist at the same time and still claim to be concerned about Qantas workers.
“If he really cares about workers he will see the repeal of the Qantas Sale Act and support it.”
Meanwhile, the Labor and the Greens will today vote to set up a Senate inquiry into Qantas.
The Greens say the inquiry should include a review into Qantas’s books, but Mr Hockey says that has already been done.
Workforce carve up
The flying kangaroo began its purge on Wednesday with a number of senior managers the first to be shown the door.
It is understood some workers will finish up at the company before the end of the month.
Union leaders met with Qantas bosses on Wednesday in Sydney but ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the airline’s chief executive Alan Joyce refused to provide any clarity on where the job cuts would come from.
The ACTU asked whether any jobs could be saved if employees could drive more revenue into the business or agree to a wage freeze or cut.
“And the answer we got back was `no’,” Mr Oliver said.
Mr Oliver was also disappointed when he sought a commitment from Qantas about separating the domestic and international arms.
“We have had no commitment that they would not do that,” he said.
“What they said was basically everything is still on the table. And that is a concern for us as well.”
Qantas last month announced a $252 million half-year loss and detailed its $2 billion cost-cutting exercise.
Qantas chief financial officer Gareth Evans said the meeting addressed the wage freeze, and Qantas explained it was not appropriate to give pay rises in the face of significant losses.
“The wage freeze will help return the company to profitability,” he said.
Effect of the carbon tax
Meanwhile, Mr Joyce says he hasn’t changed his position on the impact of the carbon tax despite the airline’s apparently differing statements about the levy’s effect on its financial woes.
On Monday, Qantas denied the government’s claim that the carbon tax had contributed to the airline’s difficulties.
But on Wednesday, the company said: “We have said that the price on carbon is a cost to our business that we have not been able to recover” and Mr Joyce told a lunch forum in Sydney that the carbon tax “has been a big cost for us, it’s $106 million last year”.
“It is absolutely one of the factors that’s impacted the airline, along with the fuel price,” Mr Joyce said at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch.
Mr Joyce said he had always been clear about the effects of the tax.
“There was some commentary, maybe misunderstanding, out there about what our position was on this,” he said.