QANTAS has confirmed it is closing its Avalon heavy maintenance facility at the end of March 2014, resulting in the loss of around 300 jobs.
The company will continue to maintain aircraft at its major heavy maintenance facility in Brisbane and conduct line maintenance at 19 ports around Australia including Melbourne.
Qantas domestic chief executive officer Lyell Strambi said a comprehensive review had made clear there was no workable solution that would allow continued operation of the sub-scale maintenance facility.
“Qantas is gradually retiring our fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft, which means there is not enough work to keep our Avalon base viable and productive,” Mr Strambi said in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange.
“Over the next four years there would have been up to 22 months with no scheduled maintenance at Avalon. No business could afford to continue operating a facility under those circumstances.” Maintenance on the 747 fleet will be done elsewhere, but where that is yet to be decided.
Mr Strambi said Qantas was the only major airline that did heavy maintenance in Australia.
“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.
“We have invested $ 30 million this year to upgrade our maintenance facilities in Brisbane and we will continue to do heavy maintenance on more than 110 aircraft in this facility, including our fleet of Boeing 737s, Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s.”
The closure of the Avalon base will affect 53 Qantas employees as well as 246 contractors at Avalon. Qantas would try to redeploy its staff or offer “generous”redundancy packages.
The Australian Workers Union (AWU) says Qantas should be ashamed of the closure.
AWU Victorian secretary Ben Davis said workers were upset by the news Qantas had given them in meetings on Friday morning.
“Qantas broke the hearts of workers this morning. This is devastating news for Qantas workers and their families,” Mr Davis told reports at Avalon.
“Qantas should be ashamed of themselves. They have treated their workforce and their representatives … with contempt.”
Mr Davis said workers would not hesitate to move out of the state in search for work.
“If they want to continue in this profession they will have no choice,” he said.
The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas said there was no excuse for Qantas to shut the facility and put workers out of jobs.
“I believe our members are still in there receiving the news, some have wandered out and told us the lay of the land, but Qantas has said they will shut this facility down in March,” he said. Mr Purvinas said the work would be shipped to Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore despite facilities being available in Australia. He said he had safety concerns about the work being done offshore.
“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,” he said.
Mr Purvinas said the chance of retraining the Qantas workers who had lost their jobs would be difficult.
“These people cannot be retrained in the way that someone in a different industry can be. They have dedicated their lives and careers in this industry and they expect to be employed,” he said. Mr Davis said he would be talking to workers about the opportunities for a redundancy
Qantas employee Peter Ryan said he was disappointed with the announcement and that he would be forced to leave Geelong.
“I’ll be moving out of Geelong. I think Geelong is in trouble,” he said.
“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, who has been employed with Qantas for 15 years, said he believed that there was enough work to keep the facility open. But he said the news did not come as a surprise.
“There was no surprise but when you get the news it still hurts. My guts are in knots,” he said.
Mr Ryan said the unions would support workers in getting other training and jobs.
“I feel sorry for people that have kids and houses,” he said. Federal Labor member for Corio Richard Marles called on the federal government to renew its commitment to manufacturing. “It is a very difficult day and a very difficult year for Geelong,” Mr Marles said.
“Workers now face a very uncertain future.