Furious Qantas employees and sacked workers have lifted the lid on what it’s like to work for the ‘Spirit of Australia’ and levelled extraordinary allegations against the airline amid a bitter court battle that could result in a multi-million dollar payout.
The world’s oldest continuously operating airline has quietly started moving some of its operations offshore, with a small portion of its maintenance and call centres now based overseas.
The Transport Workers Union took Qantas to court in late 2020, when it was ruled the airline illegally sacked nearly 2,000 baggage handlers, cleaners and ground staff before outsourcing their jobs to foreign-owned providers including Swissport.
The airline, which argued the outsourcing was a necessary financial measure during the Covid pandemic, appealed the ruling and lost – but has since taken the case to the High Court in a last-ditch bid to avoid paying a mammoth compensation bill.
Cost-cutting was magnified by the pandemic, with 15,000 workers laid off without pay or forced to take leave in mid-2020, while another 2,500 were stood down in August, 2021 – despite Qantas receiving $2billion in government assistance.
Qantas maintain the moves were necessary due to losing $22billion in revenue and losses in excess of $5billion over the pandemic. It also said the government handouts in part went towards continuing repatriation and freight flights during the pandemic.
Former employees now remain without work while current staff allege the airline is taking advantage of their loyalty.
‘Crew are disillusioned and hurt,’ a Qantas flight stewardess, who wished to remain anonymous, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘We literally put our lives on the line on a daily basis. We face violence from passengers angry about masks, we run towards fire and smoke.
‘It’s so hard to show up and keep trying when we have nothing to give people. We’re expected to work miracles with zero resources and the company knows we are all emotionally invested so we go the extra mile for our passengers because we care.’
Qantas employees and sacked workers have levelled extraordinary allegations against the airline. CEO Alan Joyce is pictured with Qantas crew in a stock photo
One disgruntled baggage handler who was suddenly sacked along with almost 2,000 colleagues who had their jobs replaced by third-party foreign companies launched a scathing attack on the airline and CEO Alan Joyce.
‘Qantas is a substantial corporate octopus with long-reaching tentacles that disappear into the oceans connecting the business world,’ the worker, who had been loyal to the airline for 20 years, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘We took our case to our then PM Scott Morrison. The PM and his Liberal clowns stayed silent and said nothing to help thousands of Qantas workers being replaced by overseas companies on lower pay and conditions.
‘As an employee group we were devastated, for generations Australians worked for Qantas “our national carrier” this wasn’t just a job, this was a large family… Your loyalty to the company was never in writing. It was in the DNA of Qantas workers, you were expected to go above and beyond when asked – which we did for over 100 years. The world’s “number one” airline, where is it now?’
Workers say fractures began to appear with Qantas management because of its Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, which the airline looked to change at the end of last year – a move unions say is an attempt to ‘take advantage’ of the pandemic.
Qantas proposed changing conditions around crews working long haul flights on previously domestic planes which it claims are ‘restrictive and outdated rostering processes’, but 97.4 per cent of staff recently voted against the proposed EBA.
Under their proposal, the smaller, cheaper A330 planes would be used for some international flights – but the current EBA says long haul international staff cannot work on these aircrafts because they don’t have private cabins for workers.
Unions believe the move would lead to more redundancies and offshoring, but Qantas claimed that was the ‘last thing we want’.
‘The FAAA [Flight Attendants’ Association of Australia] ran a scare campaign against the new deal, claiming it would mean redundancies and offshoring, despite the fact that we’re currently hiring new crew in Australia,’ Qantas International CEO Andrew David said.
‘The union’s default position is that the company can’t be trusted and should always give more. That’s simply wrong.’
In March, Qantas confirmed it had struck an agreement with workers over a new EBA, which is due to be approved by Fair Work.
But workers told Daily Mail Australia they felt they had ‘no choice’ but to vote yes after seeking advice from unions.
The new EBA proposed by Qantas want to see international workers aboard the A330 planes – but flight staff rejected it because the planes don’t have sleeping quarters for workers
Employees were warned if they rejected the new EBA and Qantas took the issue to Fair Work to have the current agreement torn up, they would face going onto the government’s award system and see their pay slashed.
‘We voted no to start, 97.4 per cent. Then they applied to terminate our agreement and we would have lost probably. They said we could vote again but if it’s a no they will proceed with the termination application,’ a current employee told Daily Mail Australia.
‘If that happened we would go onto the modern award, which is basically the government-mandated safety net.
‘Not only would our rostering conditions have gone into the toilet, but my pay would have halved. For example, some senior flight attendants’ pay would go from $47 an hour to $26 an hour – to manage 10 crew and 400 passengers on an A380.
‘So in the second vote, most of us agreed under extreme duress, basically with a gun to our heads, figuring they would just have to start looking for a new job.’
Qantas said the new agreement was necessary to cope with post-pandemic rules around travelling and the demands of a restarting post-pandemic world.
It said all employees would be handed 1,000 shares in the company, worth about $5,500, in August next year if certain financial goals were met.
The airline also confirmed it had significantly increased the allowances for all employees which will afford them more comfortability and freedom.
‘In addition to removing restrictive and outdated rostering processes, the agreement includes a six per cent pay rise over the life of the agreement and higher allowances for our crew,’ a spokesperson said.
‘While all of the signs are positive, there is definitely work to do to rebuild demand and navigate ongoing border uncertainty in many of our overseas destinations.
‘We’re expecting to be flying at 45 per cent of our pre-COVID capacity by the middle of the year and continue to look at new destinations to get more of our aircraft and people back in the air as we rebuild our network.’
A current flight attendant said the relationship has been badly damaged, with Qantas refusing to budge on working conditions.
Cabin crew onboard a flight from Brisbane to Los Angeles were forced to create makeshift shelters from blankets among passengers to sleep privately
‘People were a bit p**sed off at how Covid was handled but the attitude definitely shifted around the EBA vote and leaving up to it,’ the woman told Daily Mail Australia.
‘There is a pretty big feeling that they presented a sh** agreement so we would vote no and they would have the ammunition they needed to go to Fair Work and apply for termination of our agreement.
‘When they came to us and proposed that they were going to fly the domestic aircraft on the [Brisbane to Los Angeles] route we tried to work with them and they rejected every single suggestion – anything over 14 hours we need lie-flat rest – this is in the EBA.
‘We offered to do it for an extra day of rest in LA and an extra day of rest at LAX or home after – it was rejected. We offered to have Australian onboard managers in a single business class seat while the rest of the crew have these “four-seat beds”, that was rejected.’
The stewardess said she recently worked a 12-hour return flight between Sydney and Perth that had no water or rest beds for pilots and flight crew.
Alarming photos taken on board A330 Qantas airplanes show flight attendants had to create makeshift shelters from blankets to sleep while working on flights up to 14 hours long.
Red sheets and blankets were photographed hung over the backs of seats with staff sleeping across rows underneath, which Qantas workers say is taking their dignity.
‘We were supposed to have a soundproof light proof curtain to protect our rest. The crew have been making cubbies out of blankets to get rest and protect their dignity and security while sleeping in the open passenger cabin,’ the stewardess said.
‘It’s so unsafe. If an oxygen mask falls nobody will be able to reach it. Girls in skirts and dresses are having to wrap themselves so nobody can see up their skirt.
‘We’ve always been banned from taking rest in the cabin as it’s a ‘brand risk’, it’s a complete sh** show.’
Qantas has instead turned to its Auckland-based flight crew to work aboard the A330 long haul flights, as New Zealand workers aren’t protected by the same rest laws as Australian staff.
‘The “spirit of Australia” is nine New Zealanders laying across passenger seats to LA,’ the stewardess said.
Qantas said they were forced to use Kiwi staff because unions didn’t support their staff working aboard the A330 planes.
‘We have thousands of Australian based crew flying domestically and internationally. A small amount of flying is being done by New Zealand based crew because the union was not prepared to support Australian based crew working on longer routes with some of our A330 aircraft, including the Brisbane to Los Angeles route, on terms that we were able to agree to,’ a spokesperson said.
‘We wanted to have our Australian-based crew do this flying, but without the union’s support for this to happen, we’ve instead had to use New Zealand based crew on some of these flights.’
A330 planes are used for flight under 14 hours and are not fitted with private sleeping cabins for the crew
Flight staff feel abandoned by the company they love so dearly, saying Qantas has used them as ‘punching bags’ for disgruntled travellers looking to travel post-pandemic.
‘We risk the passengers losing respect for us and then becoming non-compliant to safety instructions. Violence towards crew is on the rise, we follow American aviation trends,’ another anonymous stewardess told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Passengers are angry at delays and what they perceive is bad customer service because we’re tired and understaffed. We’ve got no fight left and no tools to help recover people, all we can do is listen.
‘We can’t even tell people to call the call centre for help (because it’s hopeless and the wait times are extremely long). We’re basically punching bags.’
Emeline Gaske, the Assistant National Secretary of the Australian Services Union, said Qantas has gone from being the spirit of Australia to the ‘mean spirit of Australia’.
Qantas workers say being forced to erect makeshift cubby houses surrounded by passengers is taking their dignity
‘It’s been devastating for the work force over the past two years. They used to be sought after careers for this airline. It used to make people proud to get up in the morning,’ Ms Gaske told Daily Mail Australia.
‘They’re devastated because it was a career you wanted to build over your whole life. You felt respected by management, and what we see now is that being completed stripped away.’
Ms Gaske believes Qantas has used Covid to introduce a series of cost-cutting measures that hurt its loyal workers.
‘They have used the cover of the pandemic to make a lot of mean spirited conditions that harm its workers and customers,’ the ASU assistant nation secretary said.
‘Qantas have hoodwinked the government because the federal government ploughed over a billion of taxpayer dollars into Qantas during the pandemic with zero strings attached.
‘They just handed over a bill cash with no plan to bring laid off people back. They’re obsessed with providing services in the cheapest way possible.’
The union has been alerted to stories of Qantas offering free fruit to flight attendants as a ‘welfare policy’ while a lack of staff at airports means people have had to wait on hold for hours and even miss their flights as they wait for offshore call centres.
‘The great shame is this is the first opportunity many have had to go on holiday, and instead of it being a reminder of why you love travelling, because of Qantas’ poor service, it’s a reminder of what everyone hates about travelling,’ Ms Gaske said.
‘Staff were so excited to be back, instead it’s become an absolute disaster.’
A gold Qantas member named Lisa told Daily Mail Australia she has stopped using the airline post-pandemic because the prices are out of control and she had heard negative things about their recent service.
‘I’m flying to London soon, we’d been trying to book flights for ages but premium economy was going for $7,500 return. That’s more than triple what it normally costs,’ she said.
‘I’m a gold member and have been for a long time. I make sure I hit the points threshold to keep it every year because we’ve always loved flying with Qantas but I’ve heard nothing but bad things about them since they started moving everything overseas. The airline sucks now’.
When asked what she thought of seeing flight attendants sleeping across rows among customers, Lisa said: ‘It was humiliating. I can’t imagine sleeping in my office, so they shouldn’t have to sleep with passengers.’
Staff feel like Qantas are ‘taking advantage’ of the pandemic and their loyalty to the iconic Australian company
As a part of Qantas’ new EBA offer, flight staff have been offered a two-year wage freeze, before a two per cent increase per year for three years.
The company said the raise was to provide ‘higher allowances’, but employees believe it’s insulting.
‘It’s not even in line with inflation,’ a current worker said. ‘The company told us that was the best they could offer, then they went and bought another airline and a sh**load of planes.
‘This is not what the spirit of Australia is meant to be.’
Meanwhile, Qantas are dragging 1,700 former baggage handlers to the High Court as it attempts to avoid paying a monster compensation bill to the former employees.
The Transport Workers Union say Qantas illegally outsourced the jobs, however the airline argues it was necessary due to the pandemic and saved them $100million.
‘Safety was out number one priority,’ one sacked worker said. ‘Alan Joyce and his board gave us the option of voluntary redundancy – which some workers took.
‘Weeks later, the remaining employees were given notice that our jobs would be outsourced. We were given the option to put in an in-house bid – which Qantas knew would never succeed. So we all lost our jobs.’
Earlier in May the airline saw their appeal dismissed by a Federal Court, saying it had acted against the protections of the Fair Work Act when it cut the 1,680 jobs across 10 airports in November, 2020.
The court found the outsourcing of the jobs were in fact part of Qantas’ ambitions to avoid industrial action.
Joyce, 55, and his husband Shane Lloyd bought a palatial 1908 Federation residence in Mosman, trading up from their inner city penthouse at The Rocks
Many of the workers were set to see their bargaining agreements expire the month after they were ultimately sacked.
‘Today’s judgment does not mean Qantas is required to pay compensation or penalties,’ the airline said in a statement on May 4.
‘Qantas has always said the decision to outsource our ground handling function was based on lawful commercial reasons in response to the unprecedented impact of the Covid crisis.’
The Transport Workers Union national secretary described Qantas’ actions as ‘reprehensible’ and accused them of ‘the largest finding by a country mile of illegal sacking and outsourcing in Australian corporate history’.
‘In the face of four federal court judges saying that they acted illegally, instead of showing contrition … they’ve said no, let’s fight our workforce in the high court,’ Michael Kaine said.
The TWU said Scott Morrison’s former government failed to hold Qantas accountable despite being the greatest beneficiaries of Covid support payments with $2billion in assistance.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce has splashed out on a sprawling $19million waterfront mansion overlooking Sydney harbour
Meanwhile, Qantas boss Alan Joyce has splashed $19million on a sprawling waterfront mansion overlooking Sydney Harbour.
Joyce, 55, and his husband Shane Lloyd bought the palatial 1908 Federation residence in Mosman on the city’s lower north shore, trading up from their inner city penthouse at The Rocks.
The 15-room home has six bedrooms and multiple living areas, including outdoor living spaces on two massive decks overlooking the busy bay.
After being on the market for several months, it was sold by former foreign exchange dealer Alison Ethell and her sister Jane, who bought it for just $1.25million 19 years ago.
Joyce and Lloyd’s new 631 square-metre home was completely rebuilt in 2015 with Seattle architect Paul Moon transforming the house into a modern classic, with the help of Lovett Custom Homes.
Now it is an enormous three-level home, set above a large three-level parterre garden that leads to a direct deep waterfront access.
At the water’s edge it has a jetty that could accommodate a 7.6 metre sailing boat, which might come in handy with the Sydney amateur sailing club located directly across Mosman Bay from the property.
Joyce and Lloyd’s new 631 square metre home was completely rebuilt in 2015 with Seattle architect Paul Moon transforming the house into a modern classic
It also has an valuable and rare permanent berth and its very own shark-netted sea pool.
The mansion boasts four bathrooms, a home cinema, its own wine cellar and a huge double garage.
According to designer Paul Moon, it was refurbished as ‘a traditional Australian Federational Style house and update the spaces with a few American touches’.
Joyce, who takes home an estimated annual salary of $1.9million as Qantas boss, bought a $4,575,000 penthouse in 2008.
Some of his former and current employees alike say they can’t even put food on the table.
After being on the market for several months, it was sold by former foreign exchange dealer Alison Ethell and her sister Jane, who bought it for just $1.25million 19 years ago