QANTAS will close its heavy maintenance base in Avalon and send the work offshore, but denies the move is part of a long-term plan to shift all maintenance to Asia.
Unions slammed the decision, saying it’s a sign of things to come and that Qantas had treated the 300 workers who will lose their jobs with contempt.
The Avalon base near Geelong will close in March, after a review found there was not enough work to keep the base viable for the company’s soon-to-be-retired fleet of Boeing 747s.
Qantas domestic chief executive officer Lyell Strambi says the company will look offshore to maintain the ageing fleet and will try to redeploy staff or offer “generous” redundancy packages.
But he said it was nonsense to say the closure was part of a long-term plan to move its entire maintenance operations to Asia.
“Qantas is committed to engineering and maintenance in Australia and will continue to do the vast majority of its maintenance in Australia, employing thousands of people,” he said.
Mr Strambi said the company would continue to maintain more than 110 aircraft at its major heavy maintenance facility at its main base in Brisbane, which recently received a $30 million upgrade.
The base closure means layoffs for up to 299 employees, including 53 Qantas employees and 246 contractors with Forstaff Aviation.
Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas said the work at Avalon would be shipped to Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore, despite facilities being available in Australia.
He said work being shifted overseas would raise safety concerns.
“There is no doubt that when Qantas close this facility and send those aircraft offshore, the aircraft will be less safe than what they were yesterday,” Mr Purvinas said.
Australian Workers Union Victorian secretary Ben Davis said Qantas “broke the hearts of workers”.
“Qantas should be ashamed of themselves, they have treated their workforce and their representatives … with contempt,” he said.
Qantas employee Peter Ryan said he was disappointed with the announcement and that he would be forced to leave Geelong.
“I think we’re all going to struggle to find work after this, and I’m the lucky one that’s been in numerous industries, there’s people in there that have only been in this one and they’ll hurt,” Mr Ryan said.
Mr Ryan, who has been employed with Qantas for 15 years, said he believed that there was enough work to keep the facility open.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the job losses were “tragic”, but a decision many businesses had to make “from time to time”.
He said an expanding economy would increase Australia’s job prospects.
It’s another blow for the struggling Geelong region, following the decision by Ford to close its Geelong plant in 2016, costing 510 jobs; Target slashing about 200 jobs; and Shell flagging the sale of its Geelong refinery, threatening some 450 local jobs.
The Avalon review follows 263 redundancies at the site announced a year ago and the closure of the Tullamarine heavy maintenance facility, which resulted in 422 job losses.