Qantas has reiterated its determination to cut jobs in a bid to secure the airline’s future, while calling on the federal government to provide a level playing field against rival Virgin Australia.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and senior Qantas executives faced a senate inquiry into the future of Qantas in Sydney on Friday.
In an opening statement, Qantas chief financial officer Gareth Evans said Qantas could be relied on to “always put Australia first”.
“There are those who say that Qantas no longer really matters to Australia. That whether Qantas sinks or swims as a business is immaterial to the future of this country. They are wrong,” Mr Evans said.
“No other airline in the world can be relied upon to always put Australia first.”
Qantas plans to cut 5,000 jobs as part of a restructuring to keep the airline viable, after making a $250 million half-year loss.
The Qantas statement, delivered before Mr Joyce began answering questions from the senate committee, said the airline’s future was under threat from an uneven playing field.
It pointed to the foreign stakeholders in rival Virgin, saying they had poured $300 million into capacity increases while Virgin was making losses.
“It would be naive for anyone to think these sovereign airlines don’t have an agenda in bankrolling our competitor. They do,” Mr Evans said.
“It is a strategy directed at weakening Qantas and promoting the interests of Virgin’s foreign owners,” he said.
The federal government’s bill to remove foreign ownership limits on Qantas has cleared the House of Representatives, but looks set to fail in the upper house.
Mr Joyce was asked by the committee if he could guarantee that no more jobs would be cut if changes to foreign ownership caps were approved by parliament.
“I can’t rule anything in or out,” he said.
But if the restrictions aren’t lifted, Qantas will remain under financial pressure because of “market distortion”, and that distortion would cause more job losses, Mr Joyce said.
Part-time work hurts workers
Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon told the inquiry that the airline is only offering slightly more than 20 hours of work a week to employees as part of a strategy to move to a part-time workforce.
The airline is seeking a loosening of foreign ownership restrictions that could allow investments from offshore airlines.
Unions object to changes to foreign ownership provisions on the grounds any shift would allow jobs to be sent offshore.
Mr Sheldon told the Senate committee, which is inquiring into the future of Qantas as a national carrier, that the airline’s management had not engaged with workers to consider alternatives to the job losses.
“There is not full-time jobs anymore, and they are offering voluntary redundancies for full-timers as well as the intent to have forced redundancies where they can to make sure they get their 5,000 mark,” Mr Sheldon said.
He said positions offered under the most recent labour arrangement to employees covered by his union, mainly ground services staff, were all part time.
The result of part-time work was workers earned $200 a week less than the minimum weekly wage, and roster uncertainty made it hard to get a second job.
“It does not give Australian families the capacity to pay the mortgage, the rent and raise a family,” he said.
Mr Sheldon also claimed Qantas had invested in new aircraft for its underperforming Jetstar Asia service while failing to buy new, more fuel-efficient planes for the Qantas domestic service.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce will appear before the committee later on Friday.