The exact nature and location of the job cuts announced yesterday at Qantas are still sketchy, but Alan Joyce’s announcement indicates 5000 equivalent full-time jobs will be cut in the next three years, with four thousand jobs scheduled to end in 2015.
The cuts will include 1500 non-operational jobs in management and customer service, a similar number of operational job losses – associated with fleet and route rationalisation and the restructuring of line maintenance – and the remainder accounted for by the restructuring of catering operations.
The total includes already announced job losses associated with the closure of Qantas’s Adelaide catering facility. It appears that most of Qantas’s Adelaide-based operations will close, with reports of engineers, baggage handlers and check-in staff already being offered voluntary redundancies.
The 5000 effective full-time jobs might translate into a higher number of actual jobs lost if part-timers are targeted. In its announcement, Qantas promises to work with employees to minimise the adverse impacts of these redundancies. This is already evident in the timing of the Qantas action, which puts Qantas workers ahead of Ford, Holden and Toyota workers in the job queue.
The realities ahead
All large-scale job loss events throw large numbers of workers with similar sets of skills onto the labour market at the same time. This creates long queues of jobseekers competing for the same types of vacancies in the same places. Work in the aviation sector is highly specialised but the local aviation sector is not expanding, so the chances of retrenched workers finding another job in aviation are slim. Those former Qantas workers who eventually find work in new occupations in new industries will face quite significant long-term losses as they rebuild their careers from scratch.
The job queues created by large-scale retrenchment events tend to be occupation-specific, resulting in quite different experiences of unemployment and patterns of outcomes for different groups of workers.
In the case of former Ansett Airlines employees, workers who had held generic customer service jobs and those with a non-aviation specialisation (the accountants and human resources managers, for example) were re-employed quite quickly, often finding jobs that were equivalent to or better than their Ansett Airlines jobs.
Many large employers (like Telstra) recognised the quality of the Ansett workforce and employed former Ansett employees who then recommended their former colleagues. This created numerous “Ansett clusters” in large firms. If Ansett is taken as a guide to what might happen at Qantas, this group might take up job search assistance but are unlikely to require retraining.
The Ansett engineers typically found work with Virgin, Qantas or a regional airline, often relocating to another city as they followed the work opportunities (typically from Melbourne to Virgin’s maintenance centre in Brisbane). It helped that Virgin was expanding rapidly to fill the gap left by Ansett’s departure.
Engineers and information technology workers who are highly specialised in technologies that will become obsolete as airlines upgrade their fleets and systems are especially vulnerable and will need skill upgrade retraining. Given the poor prospects of finding work in Adelaide or Melbourne, it is likely that skilled aviation specialised workers will be looking to relocate overseas.