Q-Catering Brisbane exemplifies why the company needs to examine its failed business practices.

The last edition of On The Move canvassed some of the awful decisions leading to the record loss of $245m — decisions that appalled the business community.

Larrikin ad man  John Singleton, who had wanted to invest in Qantas before Alan Joyce’s stint as CEO,  summed up the poor performance thus: ‘If [Virgin Australia CEO John] Borghetti and Joyce swapped airlines, the Qantas share price would go up and Virgin’s would go down, no question.’

‘Alan Joyce ‘has no people skills and it’s all bad, bad, bad [news],’ he continued, and ended his damning verdict thus: ‘When they start announcing record losses instead of record profits and the solution is no new planes, you know they haven’t got a clue.’

Given all this, it’s fair to ask: Is Alan Joyce as CEO the lightning rod for diffusing bad business vibes throughout the company? The shoddy state of affairs at Q-Catering is a case in point.

Last year, 55 per cent of the chefs at Q-Catering took voluntary redundancies. The remaining chefs were rostered off Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday so Qantas could avoid paying penalties. Management’s brilliant plan was to put them on Monday to Thursday, cryovac-ing the food that would be required at the end of the week.

By Sunday afternoon, the operation is running out of food, and all weekend staff are asking for food that hasn’t been cooked. By Monday morning there is no food. The food-production area starts at 0400, and the chefs start at 0700. Double-handling and wasted time are the norm.

If the operation is running as smoothly as it can under these ridiculous circumstances, the chefs and the production staff are in sync by the Wednesday — but then the cycle starts again.

“You’re asking people to cook seven days’ food in four – when the food is not even in the building,” one flabbergasted worker told On The Move. Workers have taken to calling the manager who ushered in this mania for plastic-wrapped chow ‘The Cryovac King’.

Last year, food that had been prepared but not cryovac-ed was thrown out because management would not pay overtime. This happened three times, and each incident represented up to $10,000 in waste.

But it’s not just staff who are angry about the workings at Q-Catering. When Qantas’ catering consultant and famous chef Neil Perry discovered that his Business-Class meals were being cryovac-ed, he hit the roof.

One worker familiar with Mr Perry’s exchange with Qantas management related how the chef said that if the cryovac-ing of his food didn’t cease, ‘I will take you to court.’

Realising the implications of ignoring Mr Perry’s demand, management was forced to put on five to six labour-hire chefs on the weekends to replace the ones it lost when it moved to cryovac-ing food in bulk.

Of course, Mr Perry could only effect change in the part of the menu he sets. Qantas Economy meals, and the Economy meals of client airlines, are still bagged up during the week.

Marilyn is a Senior Catering Officer at Singapore Airport Terminal Services. She is responsible for ensuring that Q-Catering correctly carries out its contracted work for Singapore Airlines. If the meal specifications in the contract are not met, Marilyn is there with her eagle eye to note the errors during her tasting visits, and put a rocket up the site managers.

Previous problems Marilyn has picked up relate to not adhering to the meal specifications in the contract. Simply put, that means the wrong meals using the wrong food.

If Marilyn were aware of the extent of the bad business practices Qantas is enshrining in its operations, there is every reason to believe that she, and SIA, would be alarmed at the threat to her organisation, and the hundreds of thousands of passengers it serves.

And Marilyn would not be alone: in the last couple of years Q-Catering lost business from China Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Air Pacific, and Royal Brunei. In February this year, Air Niugini, Air Calédonie, and Korean Air were told by Qantas that it wouldn’t be renewing their contracts. Korean offered more money to continue with Q-Catering, but management rejected the proposal.

‘Everyone is scrambling for business, but Qantas is throwing it away,’ a perplexed employee noted.

Marilyn does not know the full extent of how bad things are at Q-Catering, and that is because whereas local managers once allowed her, as a matter of course, free run of the catering centre, these days they want her to let them know she is coming to visit.

Her last visit was in early September. Those familiar with her assessment report that she was happy with the in-house-prepared Business meals, but very unhappy with the outsourced Economy meals, which were miles off spec.

Singapore Airlines, which has always maintained its preference for fresh preparation of food, remains ambivalent about Q-Catering.

Perhaps Qantas management would pick up its performance if it were aware that Singapore Airlines has done walk-throughs of Alpha Flight Services twice in recent months …

The new catering building is currently three months behind schedule, and $10 million over budget. So bad are the cost over-runs that the plan for a robotic line has had to be binned.

Qantas’ use of DHL to handle logistics has been a demonstrable failure. The process is so poor that the expiration date on salads has been doubled to 48 hours.

Can you think of any airline passenger who would want to eat a two-day-old salad?

Receipting is not being carried out. Paperwork is dumped en masse at the end of the day, if at all. Qantas had planned for four deliveries a day; instead, they received up to eight.  Dockhands have to spend 12 to 15 man-hours per delivery to unload.

DHL isn’t hitting its target times,  deliveries planned for 14-berth trucks are being made with 24-berth trucks. In-house inventory accuracy was at 96 per cent. After DHL came in, a check of 20 items found that none of them were correct. One pair of drivers spent 45 minutes fixing up the trolleys before they could go on the plane.

Meanwhile, workers witness the farcical flailing of a Qantas management obsessed with cutting staff and outsourcing work.

The first round of redundancies saw 30 workers punted, but during that time two new managers were hired.

Workers co-operated on the first round of redundancies; now the operation is struggling to cope. This round of redundancies will be over-subscribed because, according to one worker, ‘it’s total, utter frustration … people are desperate to walk away from this … it’s a nightmare.’

Labour-hire staff are walking into the building and leading a section (equivalent to a Level 6).  “How is the system working when you’ve got a labour-hire person — who can only be paid as a Level 2  — working as a Level 6?” your Branch Vice-President Wayne Bailey asked.

There have been 22 expressions of interest in the latest round of redundancies. Most of these are from chefs and drivers the company does not want to lose. Up to 60 positions will be made redundant.

This is the lie of the land at Q-Catering: Permanent staff never know whether labour-hire staff have been trained. Labour-hire attrition is up to 93 per cent. Management refuses to train permanent staff who have requested it, but it will provide inadequate training (conducted by untrained trainers) to labour-hire staff. General training of permanent staff is inadequate. Specials staff have not received proper training.

Qantas is hoping to shore up the operation by preserving three key client airlines — Cathay, Singapore, and Thai — and the talk is that Alan Joyce is waiting for the right time to sell it. But can Qantas keep the clients — and the viability of the business — if it continues to operate like this?

That’s an outcome that appears increasingly unlikely.

The ugly truth at Q-Catering

► A labour-hire worker in the Specials area put chicken in a vegetarian meal. The vegetarian Sikh passenger whose fork picked up that chicken duly made a complaint. Verdict: OFFENSIVE

► A Singapore business-class meal required a ginger glaze. Only a skeleton crew was working, because it was the weekend.  The glaze couldn’t be cooked, so julienned ginger was stirred into ‘Oriental’ sauce. Verdict: SUB-STANDARD

► Outsourced food is being brought into the building and stored in dirty bread crates. Verdict: DANGEROUS

► Poached eggs on Singapore Airlines’ menu have a use-by date four days after preparation. Verdict: OFF-PUTTING

► Procurement is so poor that in one incident there was no safe yoghurt to replace expired yoghurt. Staff had to go to Woolworths to pick up yoghurt. Verdict: INCOMPETENT

► One menu cycle required wild rice. It never arrived during that cycle, then turned up after the cycle was over. It had to be warehoused while a use for it was conceive d. Verdict: INEFFICIENT

► There was no smoked duck for a Neil Perry recipe, so it was replaced with Peking Duck! Verdict: SAME-SAME, BUT DIFFERENT!


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