Qantas dispute (updated): Australia grounded by ‘$5 million man’
I must admit to a personal interest in the current Qantas dispute in Australia as I’m due to fly home from Melbourne on a Qantas jet on Thursday. But it means I’ve got a ringside seat in the dispute: one where the TUC fully supports our Australian colleagues. For several weeks, three Qantas unions have been taking limited industrial action over a range of complex issues, mostly about job security and work practices. On Friday, Qantas’ AGM saw CEO Alan Joyce take a 70% pay increase, making him the “$5 million man”. On Saturday, he shocked Australia by announcing that all Qantas planes were grounded forthwith, and that the domestic workforce would be locked out from Monday.
The ACTU have demanded that the airline resume flying and negotiate, with air line pilots’ leader claiming that negotiating with Qantas is “like negotiating with an elephant: all they seem to want to do is stomp on you!” TWU leader Tony Sheldon said, quoting Qantas’ byline, “this is not the ‘spirit of Australia’ that I’m familiar with.”
UPDATE: overnight (well, overnight here in Australia), Fair Work Australia have required Qantas to start flying again and suspend the lockout, while also suspending union industrial action, and requiring both sides to reach agreements within three weeks or face binding arbitration. The ACTU have welcomed the decision, but so have Qantas management – it’s in the nature of Fair Work Australia to come up with a compromise. But the long-term implications of Alan Joyce’s all-on-one-throw gamble won’t be clear for some time: and the big loser may be the Qantas brand itself.
But there are darker undercurrents to the dispute, which is mostly about Qantas’ business strategy of outsourcing work to cheaper countries in the region, and pursuing an aggressive cost-cutting approach (although it clearly doesn’t extend that to cover executive pay!) Already, Qantas has established low-cost or no frills subsidiaries like Jetstar – heavily influenced by airlines such as Ryanair. And unions are nervous that Alan Joyce would cry few tears if Qantas, like the late lamented Ansett Airways, went bust, to be replaced by a cheaper, offshored airline.
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence has also attacked Alan Joyce for failing to attend the Fair Work Australia hearings which started late on Saturday and continued on Sunday: “if it’s good enough for him to do press conferences and media appearances, then it’s good enough for him to appear at Fair Work Australia.”
“Airline passengers and businesses that rely on Qantas have the right today to feel very, very angry at what Alan Joyce and his board and management has done by its single-handed decision to ground the airline’s fleet. This has stranded tens of thousands of passengers and will cause even more chaos tomorrow if he doesn’t reverse this decision. The cost to the Australian economy and to Qantas’ reputation cannot be measured. Let it be clear, one man, and one man alone, can immediately cease this disruption and that is Alan Joyce. He owes the Australian public an explanation for this pre-meditated and unwarranted escalation, and should do so at Fair Work Australia today.”