Qantas and unions talk job cuts

MATT O'SULLIVAN
Last updated 12:31 11/12/2013

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Qantas executives will face off with heavyweights from unions representing the bulk of the airline's 30,000-strong workforce next Wednesday over the latest round of job cuts.

It comes as private equity firms and other large investors begin to indirectly put out feelers to key unions to test their appetite for strategic change at Qantas.

Those talks are said to be in their infancy and insiders say political and foreign-ownership hurdles remain high for any moves on Qantas.

Shares in Qantas struck a record low on Tuesday in the wake of its shock profit warning and subsequent downgrade to junk status last week. Qantas fell as much as 4 per cent to 95.25c in late trading - its lowest level since the airline was privatised in 1995 - before closing at 96.5c.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and senior executives including the airline's domestic boss, Lyell Strambi, and industrial relations head Sue Bussell will meet leaders from unions including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Transport Workers Union, the Australian Services Union and those representing pilots and engineers.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver will be the most senior union leader in attendance.

It will be the first time that unions get an opportunity to hear about the business units likely to be hit hardest by cuts announced last week when Qantas issued a profit warning.

The beleaguered airline outlined plans to axe at least 1000 jobs from across the company, including Jetstar, and strip out an extra US$2 billion ($2.2 billion) in costs over the next three years.

The unions are eager to learn the extent to which Qantas plans to axe jobs from operational roles. Administrative positions at head office are said to be relatively thin.

''If they start to cut operational roles, then that signals something different and raises the question whether they are going to cut back on international routes,'' a source said.

The airline has said ''all options are on the table'' as part of a company-wide strategic review, including part or full sales of assets such as its frequent-flyer loyalty programme and Jetstar.

There have been suggestions that unions may consider making concessions over pay rises and other conditions given the airline's precarious financial position.

While union insiders say concessions may be a possible scenario, they say they would want management changes and forensic audits of accounts to convince them that Qantas was not subsidising other parts of the business.

Insiders say ownership restrictions on Qantas and the political firestorm that was likely to eventuate remains a large barrier to private equity firms seriously considering a move on the airline.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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