Senator Nick Xenophon

Senator Nick Xenophon. Photo: Penny Bradfield

An attempt to force Qantas chief Alan Joyce to open his airline's books to the scrutiny of senators appears likely to founder, with Labor preferring to keep the heat on the Abbott government over its hardline stance against a debt guarantee for the national carrier.

The Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon will move to establish an urgent inquiry into the future of Qantas when Parliament resumes on Monday, and wants to quiz Mr Joyce directly.

But the Labor Party is unlikely to support the move. Without ALP numbers, the attempt to establish a Senate inquiry will fail.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Instead, the Opposition will keep up direct political pressure on the government.

''Labor's immediate priority is for the government to stop talking and to start defending jobs in the aviation industry,'' Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott toughened his stance against a debt guarantee, arguing it would open a flood of demands for similar treatment.

''If you offer it to Qantas you've got to offer it to Virgin, you've got to offer it to Rex, and indeed to any other airlines that put their hand up,'' he told Channel Ten's Bolt Report.

Mr Abbott wants Parliament to alter the Qantas Sales Act to allow greater foreign investment in the airline, but Labor and the Greens argue it would allow more jobs to be shifted offshore.

Cabinet will discuss Qantas' plight on Monday morning.

The ACTU said Mr Abbott and his cabinet had a clear choice: save Qantas workers or open the way to sack even more of them.

''Tony Abbott can be the Prime Minister he said he would be, and stick up for jobs by providing Qantas with a debt guarantee,'' ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said.

''The alternative is that Tony Abbott can deny Qantas a debt guarantee, throw the national airline into further turmoil and uncertainty and open the gates for Alan Joyce to sack even more workers.''

Reacting to threats of industrial action at Qantas by the Transport Workers Union, Mr Abbott said Qantas needed a partnership between staff and management.

''I want to see the staff and the management of Qantas working together to save a great airline, and plainly the last thing that would help Qantas right now is industrial disruption.''

Greens' senator Lee Rhiannon said a Senate inquiry would offer an opportunity ''to bring forward a solution that will protect the thousands of workers and their families who will pay the price if Abbott and Joyce get away with their brutal plans for Qantas''. Senator Xenophon said an inquiry was crucial.