QANTAS has won a victory in its long-running dispute with 3800 baggage handlers after the industrial umpire rejected their claim for a limit to the outsourcing of work.
The Fair Work Australia judgment ends the second of three disputes between Qantas and parts of its workforce, which culminated in the grounding of the airline's fleet last October.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents baggage handlers and other ground crew, wanted lower-paid contractors to be capped at a fifth of the Qantas workforce.
But the Fair Work commissioners ruled that the TWU's claim failed because it had been unable to show that the use of contractors over many years had adversely affected the airline's other employees.
"To interfere with management's decision on such a matter would require clear and strong evidence of unfairness," the judgment said. "No such case has been established."
The outsourcing of work was at the centre of the bitter dispute between Qantas and the engineers' union, the TWU and the long-haul pilots' union last year. Although the engineers settled in December, the disputes between Qantas and the TWU and the pilots' union over new enterprise agreements went to binding arbitration before Fair Work.
In the TWU's case, it had sought wage rises of 5 per cent a year, while Qantas proposed 3 per cent. But in the judgment released yesterday, the commissioners found in Qantas' favour because they believed wage rises of 3 per cent a year had "due regard to the current circumstances of the employees and Qantas".
They also ruled against TWU's attempt to restrict overtime hours for permanent workers, but agreed with the union's call for Qantas to be prevented from resorting to compulsory redundancies should it decide to hire more contractors.
"The extensive use of contractors and a subsidiary labour hire provider, QGS, raises legitimate concerns by employees about the impact of these changes on job security," the commissioners said.
Despite the dramatic turn of events last year, the commissioners concluded that the industrial action by either the union or Qantas could not be "described as unreasonable".
The dispute between the long-haul pilots and Qantas is still before Fair Work.
Qantas said the judgment was evidence it was "entitled to run its business free from union control". The airline's head of government and corporate affairs, Olivia Wirth, said it was clear the TWU's demands were "out of step with what is fair and reasonable for a union to demand".
The TWU said it had a number of successes from the judgment, including an increase in superannuation and a commitment there would not be compulsory redundancies.
The industrial dispute last year cost Qantas $68 million.